The intent of police carding

Between accusations of racial targeting and invasion of public privacy, police carding is a constant source of controversy. The Liberal Government has announced that they plan to make the act of random carding illegal. But what exactly is carding, why is it controversial, and why is it that there’s been nothing done about it until now?


In response to high crime areas showing consistent patterns of illegal activity, the Toronto Police Service introduced carding in 2005 under the title “The Community Contacts Policy”. The practice involves collecting information from individuals in high crime areas. When a crime is committed in that area, the gathered information can then be referenced. People who have been carded may be approached later as either a potential suspect or witness.


Constable Bernie Travis of the Durham Region Police Service is a former member of the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET). According to Travis, carding was developed in response to the growing population of Canadian cities. The high civilian-to-police ratio of 206 officers per 100,000 Toronto-based civilians caused police to lose what Travis calls “community-based policing”. Officers became progressively less and less likely to know the individual people in their jurisdiction as the population of that jurisdiction increased.


“The population tends to be 500 to 1 for civilians to officers,” says Travis. “Officers don’t have time to know everyone in a neighborhood. Carding was developed to help bring back community policing in some capacity.”


Further attention and controversy surrounding the practice was sparked in 2006. It was at this time that police officers started to ask carded individuals for their signature in addition to their information. Eventually, statistics coming out of high crime areas started to show that residents of these areas often had a shared ethnicity.


According to Durham Crown Attorney Paul Murray, these statistics may be a societal issue more than a prejudicial issue. According to Murray, the carding program is generally put into effect as a result of a high crime rate in an area. “Unfortunately, as a result, it tends to make it look like the police are targeting a specific demographic,” says Murray. “When in reality, it’s all based on the numbers coming out of certain regions.” He went on to express that while he believes prejudice can exist in the carding system, it was not the reason for which it was developed. “What we really need to take a look at is the existing socioeconomic issues present in the areas that usually under the carding program, as these are the issues that need to be dealt with.”


Further debates regarding the program arose when Peel Region Police allegedly leaked emails that showed they could not prove the success rates of their own carding program. In Durham Region, Murray says his experience leads him to believe, “the risk you run is people getting offended by being spoken to if they have nothing to do with crime, simply living in high crime areas.”  “It becomes a privacy issue,” says Murray.


As a response to the allegations of racial discrimination, the Liberal Government of Ontario has announced that they plan to outlaw offices’ ability to commit “random” carding by the end of 2015. Based on Bernie Travis’ experience with both Durham Region Police and the R.O.P.E. squad (which deals with Canada-wide arrest warrants), he believes that this may severely impact the ability for law enforcement to quickly arrest consistent offenders in high crime areas.


Travis believes the effects of the decision to remove random stops will be widespread. “There’s probably going to be some kind of mandate put in place, so they’ll have to stop it, and every police service in the province is going to suffer from the lack of contact,” says Travis. He believes that the lack of communication between police and the community will result in police being less likely to solve cases that would have normally hinged on that kind of cooperation.


Should the restrictions by the Liberal Government be put in place, they would only affect Ontario officers.   Despite the potential impact on police service, many are eager to see the restrictions on the carding program put in place. However, the carding program has remained unaffected in both Ontario and on a Canada-wide scale. As of October 1st, 2015, the information of nearly 1.5 million carded Canadians has been collected and stored in a federal database for potential future use.


  1. Carding Allows police to link people to crimes and intelligence is what it takes to solve crimes. Carding can be that missing puzzle piece to solve a cold case. Timing is important when solving crimes, police have used carding for years to catch criminals before the criminal commits another crime and creates another victim! Ask a family member who is still waiting for closure! Think about this!!!