We continue access to justice week by discussing race and crime. One of the most controversial topics in the Canadian criminal justice system is whether the system is biased against racial minorities. Studies in Canada show that members of racial minorities view the criminal justice system as biased. Moreover, they view the system more negatively than Caucasian individuals.1 The findings suggest that many minority groups believe that their ability to access justice is lacking, especially with respect to policing and community safety.2
One area where issues of racial profiling and legal injustice arise is with respect to street checks. Street checks, also known as carding, allow police with the power to randomly stop citizens and ask them to provide documentation.3 These individuals are not suspected of a crime necessarily, nor are they formally detained at the time.4 Police use this technique to keep communities safe from crime, or gather information about crime in the area. Problematically, minority groups are often the main targets of these street checks.
Alberta’s carding practices have recently caught the attention of several politicians, lawyers, and minority groups. These parties suggest that Alberta’s carding practices are unconstitutional and specifically target minority racial groups.5 The City of Edmonton alone has received numerous complaints about police street check procedures. The Edmonton Somali community believe police are targeting their communities strictly with racial motivation.6 People within the Somalian community suggest they are continuously being asked for identification and questioned on their activities; but rarely see the same happen for Caucasian individuals in similar areas.
Police checks must target a constitutionally protected right to be unconstitutional. Minority groups would likely challenge street checks using rights enumerated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Under s. 15 of the Charter people cannot be discriminated against based on race.7 If carding is found to systematically target certain racial groups or discriminate based on race then the practice may be found unconstitutional. However, if it targets individuals of all races equally the practice will align with section 15. Critics believe that the practice does not target all races equally, but disproportionately targets minorities.
In response to carding criticisms, other cities in Canada have revised their street check procedures. The Toronto Police Services Board recently changed their carding practices so that officers cannot collect identification from a minority individual, unless the officers believe they have a connection to a specific person of interest.8 This prohibits officers from asking minority individuals identifying information unless a clear purpose is disclosed. Alberta could implement similar guidelines to help minority individuals feel that they are not being targeted without cause. The ultimate goal of these laws should be to make minorities feel safe and foster trust in police powers to help bridge their perceived lack of access to justice.
1 Scot Wortley, “Hidden Intersections: Research on Race, Crime, and Criminal Justice in Canada” (2003) 35:3 Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal.
3 Andrea Huncar, “Alberta Justice developing street-check guidelines for police”, CBC News (21 November 2016) [Huncar, “Alberta Justice”].
5 Andrea Huncar, “Police carding an ongoing irritant in Edmonton’s Somali community” CBC News (21 October 2016) [Huncar, “Police”].
6 Andrea Huncar, “Critics demand proof non-whites aren’t targeted in Edmonton police stops”, CBC News (28 October 2016) [Huncar, “Critics”].
7 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, s 15, Part 1 of the Constitution Act, 1892, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982 c 11.