Damning ‘carding’ statistics can’t be explained away – they’re evidence of systemic racism

Posted on June 28, 2017, 2:08 am
6 mins

PHOTO: Bashir Mohamed of Black Lives Matter Edmonton speaks in front of the Edmonton Police Service downtown headquarters yesterday. Below: Some powerful charts showing carding practices in Edmonton.

It’s too much. The numbers are just too high, the discrepancies in treatment too wide.

It’s just too difficult to credit the very high numbers of black and Indigenous citizens who are “carded” by Edmonton police to anything but systemic racism.

To do so requires a degree of mental gymnastics of the sort we all engage in when we really, really wish something we’ve got a bad feeling about were not true. Alas, when this happens, we’re almost always wrong.

The figures on the practice police defend and prefer to call “street checks” collected by Black Lives Matter Edmonton through a freedom of information filing are damning, and really impossible to explain in a positive way.

“Street checks,” as carding is described in the bureaucratese of the modern state, are the practice of stopping and collecting information from individuals who are not suspected of committing a crime. In other words, they amount to the arbitrary detention and criminalization of people deemed for some reason to be acting suspiciously – frequently, obviously, on the basis only of their racial or national origin.

Just to make it clear, we are not talking here about police officers talking to people they meet on the street to get a sense of what’s happing in the community they patrol. We are talking about them temporarily detaining them without legal grounds, and compelling them to provide information that is recorded and stored for unexplained and unknown purposes.

Carding ignores the principles of natural justice. It flies in the face of due process. It turns out the way street checks are practiced in this community is almost certain to be ruled by the courts to be unconstitutional, and therefore illegal. To add insult to injury, there is no persuasive evidence the practice is effective. The defences that are proffered by advocates are inevitably anecdotal and vague.

A good place for us to start would be by admitting that if white males of a certain age like the author of this post were being subjected to street checks at the rate experienced by black males and Indigenous women, we would swiftly use our privileged status in this society to put an end to the practice. We can hardly argue others should not demand the same.

The numbers revealed by the April 6 FOIP request by BLM Edmonton and provided to the group by the Edmonton Police Service on June 8 are not just troubling, they’re ugly.

  • Black Edmonton citizens are 3.6 times more likely to be carded than white Edmontonians
  • Indigenous citizens are 4 times more likely to be carded than their white counterparts
  • Indigenous women, who face the highest rates of carding, are 6.5 per cent more likely to be carded than white women

According to statistics gathered in a similar FOIP request by the CBC, in 2016 Indigenous women were 10 times more likely to be street checked than white women.

As Bashir Mohamed of BLM Edmonton succinctly and accurately put it, “it’s racial profiling.”

“Carding is racist, it is discriminatory and it is most likely illegal,” Mr. Mohamed stated.

At a news conference organized by Progress Alberta in front of the main Edmonton police station this morning, he called on the Alberta Government to outlaw the practice by Jan. 1, 2018, and purge all information illegitimately collected in this way by law enforcement agencies.

He said: “We are also calling for the provincial government’s working group on carding to immediately start talking to groups and communities affected by it.”

Damn straight they should!

Rachelle Venne, executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, backed up Mr. Mohamed’s comments: “We believe carding does not build relationships, rather the contrary, reinforces the attitude that Aboriginal women are not ‘worthy’ of the human rights that most Canadians enjoy.”

This is supposed to be the year of reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous communities. Instead of talking and talking, maybe our government should put aside the platitudes and implement an actual policy that natural justice and the fundamental law of the land alike demand.

They won’t if we don’t speak up together, you know. Even a well-meaning government like the NDP led by Rachel Notley will be tempted to take the easy way out.

In other words, it’s time for those of us who come from a traditionally privileged background in our society to recognize that we’ve all got a problem here, and to try to help with some of the hard work being done by groups like BLM and the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women.

As Billy Bragg sings: “Freedom is merely privilege extended, unless enjoyed by one and all!”

13 Comments to: Damning ‘carding’ statistics can’t be explained away – they’re evidence of systemic racism

  1. Gyor

    June 28th, 2017

    I’m a a white guy and I’m experienced being “carded” a bunch of times, my magical powers of whiteness did not protect me from the practice nor was I able to end the practice.

    Don’t get me wrong I support banning carding, it’s a privacy violation and harassment, but I’m not a fan of mythologizing whiteness into unrealistic expectations.

    Using that kind of logic poverty among white people and homelessness should have been wiped out by the power of white priveledge, it hasn’t been.

    It’s white, black, yellow, red, are all insanely broad catogories, that ignore individual experiences and that produce almost useless data by themselves.

    Example if you look at African American they make on average less then white people, but a subset of that group, Nigerian Americans actually make more on average the white Americans. Why is that, Nigerian American priveledge?

    Intersectionalism is where everything is reduced to which massively broad groupings you happen to belong to, as if person’s entire life can be reduced to a check list of a handful of overly broad groupings.

    • Lorenzo

      June 28th, 2017

      It’s not mythologizing. I’m a well-off white guy with a nice car. The police have left me alone for 40 years. If I’m stopped in a check stop, they handle me with kid gloves. When the Edmonton police pull me over for a genuine infraction, speeding for example, often as not they let me off. I’m not about to say, “Wait, you should treat me the same way as you treat young black or Indigenous men,” but I know damn well my treatment is the result of what you call my “magical whiteness” as well as the class I’m an obvious member of.

    • mr perfect

      June 29th, 2017

      Sorry Gyor but you’re wrong. Forty years ago if you were young, male and had BC licence plates you were pulled over and had your car searched by the RCMP along Highway 16 in or around Edson. I knew many friends and co-workers who had this experience happen to them, first when living in Kamloops and later when I moved to greater Vancouver. The RCMP officers were looking for marijuana and those who had it were charged with possession. One co-worker told me the officer asked him if everyone in Kamloops smoked pot because he had busted so many from there. Keep in mind those who were charged weren’t bringing drugs into the community, they were just passing through. Carding/Profiling is wrong, no matter who it happens to.

  2. Val

    June 28th, 2017

    don’t know how legal or not carding by police is but very certain – racial card way too often used by minorities to gain advantage over others and unfortunately seems this trend is on rise.

    • Rocky

      June 28th, 2017

      Members of visible minorities are always accused of “playing the racial card” when they push back against racism. I presume that was the point of using the police’s own statistics. The numbers speak for themselves. The problem is carding, not card playing.

  3. David

    June 28th, 2017

    I am sure there are many legitimate complaints, but I they need to call themselves something other than Black Lives Matter.

    A perhaps unintended message from this is that they don’t care about anyone else’s problems or think other people actually have problems. If you are white and poor, then I guess you really don’t matter because you have “white privilege” (another term that needs to go), so you are even more dismissed and ignored.. We then wonder why poor white people go out and vote for people like Trump. It is because they feel they don’t matter at all to those political parties focused on racial slights, but that ignore economic ones.

    • Elizabeth

      June 29th, 2017

      The Piping Plover is an endangered species. If I say we need to take action to preserve the habitat of the Piping Plover, would you conclude from that statement that I don’t care about any other birds? Or that I don’t think we should also work to preserve the habitat of the Whooping Crane which is also endangered?

      Caring about one specific issue does not mean a person doesn’t care about any other issue. Naming a problem does not prevent work on any other problem.


    June 28th, 2017

    I am making an assumption here. I’ll bet that neither GYOR nor Val has ever ventured out of their safe zone of Alberta or Canada. Staying at an all inclusive resort does not count. They have no idea how far white privilege extends.

    As for GYOR being carded a bunch of times, no doubt he was asking for it, either by his mode of dress and/or behaviour.

  5. Simon Renouf

    June 28th, 2017

    Would a perfect example of white privilege be a white person telling the leaders of Black Lives Matter that they should change the name of their organisation? It’s odd that the left is always accused of political correctness, but in truth censorship of political speech is far more common on the Right. How many self-identifying conservatives will ever say “Black lives matter”? They will generally agree that black lives do matter, they just can’t say the phrase out loud. They would prefer to say “All lives matter” or some equally anodyne comment which does not acknowledge the need to fight racism.

    I suspect that many conservatives do appreciate that there is systemic racism in the policing and justice systems, but for some reason they can’t speak those words. Go ahead, say it out loud. It will do you, and others, some good.

  6. St Albertan

    June 28th, 2017

    Our world here in Alberta does not see indigenous people in the same way as we see ourselves or African people. Not only that, we don’t see east African people in the same way as we see Nigerians. What a difficult electorate we must be!

  7. Scotty on Denman

    June 28th, 2017

    Carding is bullying on a racist basis. Police bullying, like schoolyard bullying, is indicative of problems at home. It needn’t be taken out on a targeted race, and there is a variety of victims of police bullying even in-house on police forces; in the 60s and 70s, men with long hair were shaken down and “carded” for no reason on a regular and consistent basis, regardless of race. The overzealousness with which puerile cops availed the “suspicion-of-carrying-illegal-drugs” against “hippie” women offended mainstream morals to the point where female police were required to conduct body searches (whether unreasonable or not). The dysfunction of the bigoted hierarchy has come into full view as big, demoralized men, trained to kill at the dumb end of the enforcement truncheon, react to new strictures by systematically bullying their own female colleagues. The root is probably the dismal prospect of advancement through what rookies soon learn, with palpable disillusionment, are an insufficient number of long, backstabbing gauntlets to run in order to reach the zenith of public service’s narrowest of ambition.

    But the bullying, with blatant ostentation fully intended, is persistently tolerated by those who matter most to the perpetrators: the higher offices of police organization whose currency is always, whether in punishment or reward, loyalty. This matters more that public opinion. Unfortunately, citizens’ civil rights are being offended by allowing this quasi-formal steam-valve of peevish frustration and brooding frustration to persist.

    Carding stats make it look like the tactic is a street cop obsession. It might not be possible in this state of mind—or working atmosphere—to appreciate that bullying is antithetical to keeping the peace and building respect between police and citizens, much less getting to the bottom of complex underlying issues, personnel-management dysfunction, poor morale and bullying, both from and within the force.

  8. David

    June 28th, 2017

    If it is ok for a minority to tell the majority how to think or what to say, but it is not the other way around, it seems like a double standard. I suppose if you are considered privileged you should be silenced, dismissed – that doesn’t seem very privileged to me.

    I actually don’t think it it is trite to say all lives matter, maybe its really is not a bad starting point. I don’t think the remedy for racial discord and disharmony is more of it back from the ones who have been treated badly.

    There are many types of “privilege” and not every white person feels or is so privileged. I don’t think black people would appreciate stereotypes and assumptions being made about them because of their skin colour, so why would white people?

  9. jerrymacgp

    June 29th, 2017

    There is a principle of maritime law that says, “the seas are free for the innocent passage of all”. Why isn’t there a similar principal for innocent use of public streets, parks and sidewalks? Carding someone who has committed no offence at all is wrong, wrong, wrong, period. We need to put a stop to it if we are to remain a free society.


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