Police Street Checks and What Ontario is Doing About Them
On July 30th, Ontario announced a new initiative: public consultation on police street checks.
Street checks are police instigated stops in high-crime neighbourhoods, and the reason the tactic has received so much recent media attention is because it usually results in arbitrary detention of citizens. The practice has been prominent in Toronto. Individuals stopped are not suspected of committing a crime, but are questioned by police services, and more shockingly, entered into a police database. The Ontario Court of Justice in R v Fountain, 2013 ONCJ 434 has already ruled that these ‘street-level encounters’ are a breach of an individual’s Charter right to be free from arbitrary detention. That decision was recently cited to successfully reinforce a civil lawsuit against the Toronto Police Services. Nevertheless, street checks are an ongoing issue in Ontario. The province has taken an additional measure with it’s new initiative to gather the public’s opinion about these checks. According to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the idea behind public consultation is to prevent biases in police street checks. The public will be asked to give input about the following: circumstances in which police services can ask a citizen for information, expected rights of any such citizen, how to enhance training and ‘accountability mechanisms’. The long term goal is to draft a new act that addresses the results of these consultations. It seems that the impending legislation will aim exclusively at ensuring police are not biased while conducting street checks, thus only tackling a small problem, while leaving the bigger issue of systematic Charter violations untouched. Even still, a new legislation that closely monitors and regulates street checks is a step in the right direction.
Calgary, and Alberta as a whole has yet to become subject to these types of searches. The Ontario courts’ discouragement and government’s scrutiny of street checks is hopefully enough warning to ensure the rest of Canada’s police agencies don’t follow suit.