Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

When it comes to carding, Mayor John Tory needs to stand on principle

By: Metro Published on Tue Jun 23 2015

Back in November, John Tory made it clear he wasn’t entirely happy with Toronto police.

“I am not at all satisfied with the overall state of the relationship between the police services board, the police service itself and the community,” Tory, still mayor-elect at the time, told journalists at a state-of-the-city event.

To fix things, he decided to take a seat on the police services board and oversee change.

I lauded the move. The city’s police represent the biggest expense on your property tax bill, and there’s long been a need for greater oversight.

Still, I’m not sure Tory could have known then just what he was getting himself into.

More than six months later, policing issues dominate the headlines. There’s a rookie police chief at the helm. The chairman of the police board is stepping down. And soon police will take a key role in providing security for the Pan Am Games, an endeavour that will inevitably spark memories of the G20.

Then there’s carding.

Police carding, of course, is the thing that allows officers to arbitrarily stop people and record their information. Data shows that people of colour are far more likely to be carded. There’s no real evidence that carding reduces crime — but, really, it wouldn’t be justified even if it did.

Carding should have been stopped years ago, but change has been elusive. For all the foot-dragging from police, you’d think reformers were asking officers to give up their handcuffs, instead of merely demanding that they stop violating people’s charter rights.

Recently, the calls to end carding have gotten louder. The writing and advocacy of people like Desmond Cole, Idil Burale, Andray Domise and the Concerned Citizens to End Carding group has pushed the issue to the forefront.

Tory’s response to all this has, for me, highlighted some concerns about his leadership style.

He’s oscillated between different positions.

In December, he called carding a “corrosive” practice. Not long after, he was supporting an unpopular effort to change — but not scrap — carding. Earlier this month, he changed course again, calling for an unambiguous end to the practice.

Though his latest change of heart is welcome, Tory’s track record on the issue hints at a worrisome tendency to consider compromise in cases where compromise is unacceptable. There are some issues that can’t be negotiated in closed-door board meetings.

Sometimes a mayor just needs to stand on principle — and refuse to bend.

That’s especially going to be true with policing issues. With carding now in the hands of the provincial government as it considers regulations, Tory’s principle will be paramount.

There should be little room for nuance. Just fight like hell until real change comes.

This post was originally published at on 2015-06-23T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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