Police chiefs, premiers and mayors across the country are on the hot seat right now being asked to defend police budgets and acknowledge that systemic racism in policing exists.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: There is no serious debate to be had about whether there is systemic racism in policing.
There is, and we know there is.
But asking police chiefs whether they believe systemic racism exists is the wrong question. We should be asking them what they plan to do about it.
There is something we can do immediately to eliminate one policing practice that clearly perpetuates systemic racism. Ban carding – the practice of stopping individuals and checking identification without grounds to detain or arrest the person.
This issue was raised briefly in New Brunswick when Public Safety Minister Carl Urquhart proposed new amendments to the Emergency Powers Act earlier this month that would have given broad carding powers to the police during emergencies. It would have gone further than that, giving police immunity from lawsuits for harm resulting from their conduct during an emergency, unless the harm meets the high standard of gross negligence.
Within just days of the announcement, the government withdrew the amendments facing criticism that changing emergency powers legislation during an emergency was bad form. Nicole O’Byrne, law professor at the University of New Brunswick, called it “a dramatic overreach by the executive to infringe or override the powers of the legislative assembly.”
People, especially people of colour, had good reason to be concerned about the practice.
Wherever carding is used, people of colour are stopped for street checks at disproportionately higher rates than white people.
In 2019, Nova Scotia instituted a moratorium on street checks because of evidence that Black people were street checked at a rate six times higher than white people in Halifax. Ontario has established strict rules governing when a police officer can ask an individual for identification, recognizing that street checks have disproportionately targeted Black and Indigenous communities. In 2018, Ontario Court of Appeal Judge Michael Tulloch called for the practice to be entirely abolished.
Despite what police chiefs and premiers believe, the fact that there is racism in policing across Canada has been established from data gathered about carding in various jurisdictions.
Still, police across New Brunswick use the practice.
Despite its widespread use, there is almost no data on police interactions with the public in New Brunswick that is broken down by race and ethnicity. But lack of data does not mean there is no racism in policing in New Brunswick.
In 2006, Asaf Rashid, a brown man, was arrested at a peaceful protest for refugee rights and then interrogated. Even though he was arrested alongside other white protesters, the police apparently singled only Rashid out for questions relating to his immigration status, and that of his family. A complaint was lodged, but no police officers faced any consequences for their behaviour.
In 2015, a Globe and Mail investigation found that Fredericton Police would not disclose even basic information such as the total number of street checks conducted, whether individuals stopped are informed of their rights, or even whether Fredericton police follow a specific procedure when conducting street checks.
A Daily Gleaner investigation in January of this year, however, uncovered some of those numbers. It confirmed that street checks are widely used by police in New Brunswick and that, except in Fredericton, police in New Brunswick do not collect race-related data while conducting street checks.
An analysis of the data from Fredericton showed that Indigenous people were found to have been stopped at a rate that is more than double that of the proportion they make up in the population at large.
Indigenous people in New Brunswick are all too familiar with racism in policing. Just this month, Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, was killed by Edmundston police after they were called to perform a wellness check on her. Her death is part of a pattern of violence against Indigenous women and girls across the country.
Just over a week later, an RCMP officer shot and killed Rodney Levi, a 48-year-old Indigenous man of Metepenagiag First Nation near Miramichi. Following these deaths, calls are mounting for New Brunswick to conduct a probe of anti-Indigenous bias in policing.
This bias is most regularly visible through carding.
Not only is carding a racist practice, it is also a practice without a shred of evidence to support police claims that it is effective in preventing crime or protecting the public. Carding simply allows police to infringe on individuals’ right to liberty and privacy, causing harm to communities of colour, thereby causing harm to the public.
We do not need more studies of carding to ban it in New Brunswick. Conducting more studies would mean using people of colour as guinea pigs in an unnecessary experiment that maintains police violence and discrimination against them.
As jurisdictions around the world question modern policing altogether, New Brunswick can take immediate action against systemic racism in policing by starting with a ban on carding.
Aditya Rao is a Fredericton lawyer and has been carded in two provinces. You can follow him on twitter at @aditrao.