Q&A With Defense Lawyer Miranda Hlady

Carding—the police practice of arbitrarily stopping people in public for identification and questioning—has come under fire as discriminatory and a violation of civil rights. And while many jurisdictions are working to reduce or eliminate this practice, it is still commonplace here in Alberta.

As part of our investigation into the problem of carding in the province, Progress Alberta spoke with lawyer Miranda Hlady about the situation in Lethbridge.

MirandaHlady-Headshot.jpgYou recently acquired some concerning data on carding  from the Lethbridge Police Service through a Freedom of Information request. What led you to look into this?

I’m a criminal defense lawyer in Lethbridge. I work at Lethbridge’s largest criminal defense firm and we service Lethbridge and its surrounding communities in southern Alberta. We represent a number of people in particular who are First Nations individuals.

I was contacted through an acquaintance who had a son who is a visible minority, and she had some questions about carding. Her son had been stopped, and her son’s friends had been stopped as well, by the police and asked to provide identification. These children were all under the age of eighteen and they were all either black or brown. They weren’t sure what they should do. Should they call their parents? They often didn’t have identification on them, given their age.

I did suggest that she could do a FOIP request to look into what was going on in Lethbridge because I didn’t have many answers. A few months later, she had something similar happen with one of her children again, where he was a passenger in a car and was stopped for identification.

At that point I told her I could probably look into it. We did a FOIP request for two years of information from Lethbridge looking for any information related to carding or similar processes, and we were trying to figure out if anything inappropriate was happening in Lethbridge and to what extent.

The data they provided shows a dramatic difference in the frequency of carding for different ethnic groups. Is there anything else that stood out to you?

The first thing I noticed from what we got was that 31% of people in 2016 who were carded weren’t identified by any ethnicity. In terms of the people who actually were identified as minorities, we were looking at around 28% being identified as visible minorities–significantly higher than what you would expect in Lethbridge, which is around 14%.

Before you even count the many people who weren’t identified, we’re already far higher than we should be in terms of the number of people with minority backgrounds carded. There’s a lot of disparity, particularly in regards to First Nations people.

There’s been a lot of attention on the carding situation in Toronto, and the Ontario government took some legislative steps to address the problem there. What can we in Alberta learn from Ontario’s experience?

I wouldn’t say they put a stop to carding in Ontario... what they’ve done is they’ve stopped arbitrary and random carding. They’re required now to provide a receipt that gives the name of the officer, the badge number, and the reason for the stop.

I don’t think carding has stopped, but they have made some changes to the carding process. They’ve made it more transparent than it used to be. It still is a situation where there are significant issues with the usefulness of this process, the impact it has on racialized communities, and the overwhelmingly toxic effect it has on police’s relationships with racialized communities.

I think it has been helpful that the receipts are offered. When I looked at the data for Lethbridge, something I found was very significant was that 45% of these carding reports don’t have the officers’ names on them. So there’s no sort of responsibility, I would suggest, for the street checks at all.

In general I have a lot of questions as to whether carding is in fact a legal process. I think that carding may in fact already be illegal, and I know that there are some challenges going on in Ontario asking whether carding is consistent with Canadian values. If carding is to continue in any form, we need to prevent any random or arbitrary stops; there needs to be clear reasons for any incidents of carding, and the receipt needs to indicate those reasons, and that should be provided to the individual.

In general, what do you think people should be considering when they look at the carding situation here in Alberta?

It’s interesting to look at the actual policy behind street checks, which is the second part of what we received. What interests me is how they talk about the people they are carding. The suggestion in Lethbridge is certainly that carding is not arbitrary: they’re supposedly targeting people who are linked to criminal activity, or who are known to have knowledge of criminal activity. I think that a lot of people, particularly parents of children who are being carded, would have questions about why their children are being carded based on that definition.

That this is the policy itself that we received from police about carding is quite interesting. I think a lot of people who are carded, thinking that this is possibly a random thing, might be surprised to know that the [Lethbridge] police policy for carding isn’t that it should be done randomly, or arbitrarily, but that carding is something that should be used with people who are known to be involved with criminal activity, or people who are known to be able to supply information about criminal activity, or people are involved in active investigations.

I don’t know that the information from Calgary or Edmonton indicated that clearly that carding wasn’t supposed to be random–that it was supposed to be performed only with people who are not necessarily involved in, but at least associated with people who are involved in crime.

There’s a lot in here about the importance of doing a street check properly and filling out the report, but it doesn’t appear that the officers are actually doing those things; they’re not signing the checks, they’re not filling out these forms to note basic things. Is there a disconnect between the people drafting the policies and the people on the street acting out the policies? The officers filling out the paperwork for these checks don’t seem to be taking it very seriously at all.

To some extent I would question what usefulness the street check had if the officer who performed it didn’t sign the report. It’s important that people have the ability to inquire about what happened to them when they interacted with the police. They have to know who they were dealt with and be able to ask questions of that person. If the officers aren’t signing reports to this extent–and 45% is a very significant amount–then I don’t know that is something that can happen in Lethbridge.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

 

Learn more and get involved

From July 12 through July 15, journalist and anti-carding activist Desmond Cole will be touring to raise awareness of carding & the steps the Alberta government can take to end this problem. After Desmond's presentations there will be panel discussions with local activists and communities members.

Whether you want to stand in solidarity with affected communities, learn about local activist groups that are engaging with this problem, or just want to know more about what carding is and how it impacts people, these events are a great opportunity.

Seating for these events is somewhat limited so please RSVP!