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Class-action lawsuit proposed over Toronto police 'carding'

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A proposed class-action lawsuit has been launched over Toronto police's historic use of "carding," alleging the practice of randomly stopping people and collecting their information continues to harm marginalized communities.

The statement of claim filed Monday is on behalf of all Black and Indigenous people who have been stopped by Toronto police or had their information collected without reason since 2011.

It names the Toronto Police Services Board, current police chief Myron Demkiw and former chiefs James Ramer, Mark Saunders and Bill Blair as defendants.

"Carding has caused widespread harm, including damage to the plaintiff's and class members' mental and physical integrity, their privacy and their livelihoods," it reads.

"While the police have a statutory and common law duty to investigate crime, they are not empowered to undertake any and all action in the exercise of that duty."

The lawsuit alleges that the carding practice, officially abandoned years ago, continues to take place and disproportionately impacts Black and Indigenous people despite public opposition, academic research on its harmful effects and public reports that have found it to be discriminatory and ineffective. The allegations in the statement of claim have not been proven in court.

Toronto police and the Toronto Police Services Board said they are reviewing the statement of claim, but will not be commenting on the case as the matter is before the courts.

"Any material filed, in due course and in response to this litigation before the court, will be a matter of public record," the board noted.

The lawsuit is led by plaintiff Ayaan Farah, a 38-year-old Somali-Canadian with no criminal record. It says Farah was "sitting in public" in 2011 when she was detained by Toronto police officers who allegedly recorded her personal information without providing a reason.

The statement of claim alleges that interaction led Farah to lose her security clearance in 2014 at Toronto Pearson Airport, where she had worked since 2006. The RCMP had told Transport Canada that when Farah was stopped by Toronto police officers, she had been seen with an unidentified member of the Somali-Canadian community with alleged gang ties and a criminal history.

At the time, Farah told Transport Canada that she did not know who the unnamed individual was and that she was falsely accused of having ties to gangsters.

Due to her security clearance being revoked and accusations made against her, Farah's employer suspended her without pay or benefits.

"I became very worried about going out in public. I feared that the police would watch me and accuse me of something. I stopped volunteering in my community, because I was so worried that the police might report me again," Farah said in a statement through her lawyer, Solomon McKenzie.

"I felt targeted. The police punished me for being in public, and I missed promotions, raises, and was suspended for my job for no reason."

After seeking a review of Transport Canada's decision to revoke her security clearance, a federal court found the process was unfair and set the decision aside, leading to her reinstatement 21 months later, according to materials contained in the statement of claim.

However, the lawsuit alleges the incident and its consequences led her to become isolated and develop depression, paranoia and hyper-vigilance in public. It notes she ultimately emigrated to the U.S. to avoid further contact with Toronto police officers.

Farah said she wants to push the case forward to end police use of carding tactics and seek justice for members of her community affected by it.

"I never received an apology for the police behaviour, even though they had a significant impact on my life and career. I want to make sure that nobody ever has to suffer this experience again," she said.

The lawsuit seeks to find that the carding practice violates Charter rights protecting against unreasonable search and seizure, arbitrary detention as well as discrimination and rights of liberty and security.

It also seeks a number of reforms around carding, including wiping collected data from police databases, enhanced training resources on why the practice is unlawful and a public apology to victims of carding.

In a 2019 review of carding practices, Ontario Justice Michael Tulloch, now the province's chief justice, found that random street checks were not effective as a method of crime prevention or reduction, and should be abolished given their detrimental impacts on racialized communities.

The lawsuit is calling for all 129 recommendations in Tulloch's report to be put into effect, alleging only some have been implemented to date. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2023.

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