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In Canada, a person can now be arrested, jailed, and forced to testify in court without ever being charged with a crime or knowing the evidence against them. This is the legacy of Bill S-7, a bill introduced in 2013, that offers unusual power to authorities to jail and force people into secret investigative hearings. There is also Bill C-51 that introduced as law in June 2015. This bill gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), our C.I.A., the ability to act as a secret police force with little oversight, a considerable shift from its initial purpose to gather intelligence and pass it to the RCMP.

There is also the infamous practice of carding: also known as street checks, police checks or stop-and-frisk.

Carding occurs when police officers detain law-abiding civilians—people who are not suspects, under investigation or who are not criminals or in the act of committing a crime—in order to question, I.D. and record their information. Its purpose is to find something of an incriminating nature on civilians, such as persons breaching a court condition, or for leads on a number of criminal offences. The collected information is then stored in a police data bank indefinitely.

Carding is unconstitutional because by law the police are only allowed to detain a person when they have reasonable grounds to suspect that this person is engaged in criminal activity, has committed a crime or is linked to an ongoing investigation. If there are no such grounds, the detention is illegal and any evidence obtained during this detention must be excluded at trail. Carding violates our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly the right to be free from arbitrary detention, and the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.

It is also dangerous because officers regularly write moralistic statements and judgments of character on their ‘carding notes’ that influence other officers. This happened to Osgoode Hall Law School Juris Doctor candidate, Knia Singh. He was reported as “not police friendly” (along with being incorrectly identified as Jamaican though Mr. Singh was born in Canada), as if being not police friendly is unlawful or even an objective interpretation.

A working group under OPIRG McMaster called Black, Brown, and Red Lives Matter (BBRLM) has uncovered that this unconstitutional practice is enforced by the Hamilton Police Services (HPS). What was unearthed was that between 2010 and 2014 the HPS conducted more than 9000 street checks, despite having repeatedly told BBRLM that they do not engage in carding.

While in theory it may appear unbiased, in practice carding is rampant with racial and class bias. For instance, while only 3.2 percent of Hamilton’s population identifies as black, black people account for 12 percent of people carded. Likewise, Indigenous persons are two percent of the population but five percent of people carded. White persons on the other hand are 84.3 percent of the Hamilton population but 75 percent of the people carded. This data is additionally surprising as the HPS has repeatedly told the public that they do not collect racial identifiers during street checks. It turns out they do, and that they misled us. This is unacceptable.

In response to carding, which until recently also occurred in New York as “stop-and-frisk,” Alicia Garza, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, is coming to McMaster again to speak on the topic.

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