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Carding statistics can't be explained away -- they're evidence of systemic racism

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Bashir Mohamed, BLM Edmonton (Image: David Climenhaga)

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," Mohamed stated.

At a news conference organized by Progress Alberta in front of the main Edmonton police station on Wednesday morning, he called on the Alberta government to outlaw the practice by January 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 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!"

This post also appears on david Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David Climenhaga

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