Toronto-area police chief denies blaming gun violence on Ontario carding restrictions

Peel Region Police Chief Jennifer Evans says she has “never supported” carding  — a week after she sat in front of four jars of shell casings and told reporters restrictions on the controversial police practice have “empowered” criminals.

Carding, also known as police checks, involves stopping people randomly to collect personal information. Investigations by CBC News and the Toronto Star have found it disproportionately affects black and Indigenous people.

Ontario legislation that came into effect Jan. 1, 2017, says police must tell people they have a right not to talk with them, and officers can only collect personal information during arrests, traffic stops or during the investigation of a specific crime.

In the year following the new carding restrictions, Peel Regional Police say the number of shootings in the region west of Toronto rose from 38 to 40, while the number of shots fired rose from 272 to 426.

“Since the new street check legislation was introduced, it restricted how officers are able to interact with members of the public,” Evans said while delivering a crime report on June 28.

“This has empowered criminals, who think officers won’t stop them, they now are more confident that they will get away with carrying guns and knives.”

But in an interview with As It Happens guest host Robyn Bresnahan on Wednesday, Evans insisted she has never supported carding.

Here is part of that conversation.

When you talk about a jump in violent crime, what are you and your officers seeing on the streets?

What I’ve started to do is started to count the shell casings being discharged at crime scenes, because my concern is that we’re seeing an increase in the victimization.

I started collecting jars of bullets on my desk. So they’re jars from our shooting range. They’re not crime scene bullets.

But what the bullets have been revealing to me is a shocking increase in the number of discharged shell casings left at scenes by criminals.

It makes a good photo-op because you can show the number of shell casings in a jar going up, but it doesn’t correspond to the actual number of shooting victims.

No it doesn’t. … The jars were created only because I was going into community groups and I wanted the communities to realize that each bullet is a potential for a victim in our community.

Parents and children gathered in Saskatoon on March 15, 2016, calling for an end to police carding and racial profiling. (CBC)

You say that the provincial law restricting street checks has empowered criminals. How so?

I think that the language used within the legislation is restricting officers and their abilities on how they can interact with people in the community.

What do you mean?

If you phoned the police department and say, “There some suspicious character on my street at 3:00 in the morning,” the officers who would have approach and say, “OK, you don’t have to talk to me.”

In Peel, you present them with a card with your name. So I present the card saying “Jennifer Evans” name, and on the back it shows how they can complain and how they can contact Peel Police.

What evidence do you have to prove that Ontario’s restrictions on street checks have actually led to an increase in crime?

All I’ve said is I think the language restricts it, and I think that I have seen a dramatic increase in violent crime in the last year.

Does it feel a bit too simplistic to basically say that crime is going up because of the presence or absence of a single police technique?

What’s happened is I think because of the miscommunication with regard to that, I think criminals feel empowered to carry firearms and carry weapons and do criminal acts more than they ever did before.

But how do you actually know that? Where’s the evidence?

We’re seeing it in the statistics.

More than 100 protesters voiced their opposition to police carding in Toronto at a May 2015 rally. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

Are you suggesting that fewer of those crimes would have taken place if there weren’t these restrictions on street checks?

No, I’m suggesting there’s been an increase. That’s all I’m suggesting.

Peel Regional Police were the very first police services stopped doing street checks. We did it eight months before anyone else. And we abided with the language of the regulations before any other police service.

But now you’re saying you want to reverse that.

I never said that. I’ve never said that at all.

All I said was that I’m seeing an increase in shell casings and violent crime.

But you want to be able to change the language of the street checks, correct? 

All I’m doing is telling you that I’ve seen an increase, and that’s all I’m saying.

So what do you want changed then when it comes to street checks?

I’m just bringing my concerns to the people of my community, and I leave the laws and changing the regulations to the politicians.

But there have been article after article, saying … “Toronto-Area Police Chief Faults New Restrictions on Carding for Rise in Violent Crime.

That’s why I’m talking to you right now is the fact that people keep suggesting that I’m supportive of carding. I have never been supportive of carding.

Carding is random and arbitrary race-based stops. I have never supported that.

When you say things like street checks have empowered criminals, it suggests that …

I said the language of the current regulation, I believe, has caused the empowerment of some criminals in the community to carry firearms. That’s what I’m saying.

You said you’re focused on victims. But I’m wondering, what if you devoted more time to engaging in some of these communities, these racialized communities, might that actually have a better result?

I have advisory committees from leaders within the community for a Muslim advisory, Sikh advisory, black advisory LGBTQ+ advisory committee. I have a youth advisory committee.

I also have community mobilization teams so officers on the street going out and and doing proactive positive interactions with the community.

But you must acknowledge that there are some people in those communities that actually really have a huge skepticism of the police, particularly around the history of street checks, where it’s been found that the people in those communities are disproportionately targeted.

I think there is been a huge misunderstanding of what the actual benefits of a street check is and what it is.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Kevin Robertson. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.