How do street checks impact you?

Earlier this week Police Chief Pare announced that the “street check” process in London will be adjusted to conform to a strict protocol with an auditing process to be put in place. The link to the article is found below:

This comes in the wake of criticism from various citizen groups and town councillors about the process of “street checks” as implemented by London Police. The process is currently free from any formal auditing or specific set of protocols.

“Street Checks” or carding has been characterized as Charter compliant (constitutionally valid) by Police Chief Pare, who much like Police Chiefs throughout Ontario maintain that carding continues to be an invaluable police investigative tool.
Carding is the process by which police approach individuals requesting identification without any evidence of specific crime being committed. Many of the instances of carding are not documented; therefore the process and circumstances under which carding or “street checks” occur continues to be the subject of controversy.

Many citizen groups express concern that certain races and socioeconomic classes are targeted by this process more than others. Accurate statistics are difficult to obtain as the interactions are often brief and result in no follow up or documentation by the police.
The question this blog focuses upon is whether or not carding is legal and more importantly what your rights are when engaging with the police are.

Police Chief Pare and other police chiefs across the province are correct in a very limited sense when they describe these interactions as legal. Police, much like you or myself can have a conversation with people in the street without engaging a citizen’s constitutional rights. These conversations, without providing citizens information on their rights and obligations, must be voluntary. It is at the moment the person subject to carding feels they are unable to leave, the police have entered into a territory whereby their actions engage a citizen’s rights; and dependent on their conduct, may become unlawful.

Canadian citizens have the right to be free from arbitrary detention. Detention, as stated above, begins the moment you feel you have no right to leave the interaction with the police. If the police are simply carding you with hopes that the interaction may reveal criminal activity then the detention is likely arbitrary. The question of when a person becomes detained is the subject of debate and citizens’ confusion over what their rights and obligations are when speaking with police. This confusion often leads to citizens incriminating themselves or participating against their will in the carding process. Sadly, with little oversight or reporting, those never charged have little remedy for the conduct of the police beyond a formal police complaint.

The suggestion of our office is to be polite but to express your unwillingness to participate in the process. You are not compelled to participate. If the police wish to continue their interaction with you they must provide a reason for your detention and the rights that become available to you upon detention; including the right to speak to a lawyer. It is unfortunate that this process, as it currently exists, exerts pressure upon the citizen to push back against police in what are often oppressive circumstances with little recourse if no charges are laid.

While this announcement by Chief Pare is a step in the right direction; a public education campaign about citizens’ rights when interacting with the police is another important step. This step will help address the power imbalance of those most likely affected by carding when dealing with the police to prevent unnecessary violations of people’s constitutional rights.


About Daniel Murphy

Daniel Murphy graduated with honours in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario in 2004. He then completed a Master’s degree in International Relations in 2007, finished his law degree at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall in 2010 and was called to the Bar in 2011. Daniel practiced as an Assistant Crown Attorney from 2010-2012 in Newfoundland and Labrador. Daniel currently works in association with the Toronto-based firm Ted Yoannou & Associates