Carding statistics show random breath testing would have a disproportionate effect on people of colour
A recent article in The Globe and Mail shed light on an issue many of us have long suspected, namely that street checks by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) disproportionately involved Indigenous and Black Canadians.
According to data released by the force, 16 percent of the people who were subjected to the checks last year were Indigenous. This is despite Indigenous people making up only about two percent of Vancouver’s population.
Black Vancouverites were also disproportionately stopped. Despite making up about one percent of the city’s population, Black people were involved in about five percent of street checks last year.
Street checks, or carding, involve police stopping people to gather information. They are often a very stressful intrusion into the lives of the party being questioned. In BC, the standard of proof required before an officer is entitled to carry out a street check is very low. They can do so without a reasonable suspicion of an offence, which means police can, in effect, conduct them at random.
The VPD has denied the street checks are driven by race but when you have a relatively small ethnic group accounting for 16 percent of street checks, with little to no suspicion a crime has been committed, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion.
As a criminal defence lawyer specializing in driving cases, the statistics started alarm bells ringing in my head over Bill C-46 and the debate that rages on about random breath testing.
Last week, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee voted to remove random breath testing provisions from Bill C-46. Nonetheless, sweeping changes to the impaired driving legislation are still on the table at the House of Commons. The random breath testing provisions include removing the requirement that an officer must have a reasonable suspicion of alcohol in the body before asking a driver to blow into a roadside breathalyzer. Instead, the police would be able to demand a sample at random from any driver. You can read more about my thoughts on Bill C-46 and its impact on your Charter rights here.
As well as removing the need to have a reasonable suspicion of alcohol in the body, Bill C-46 would also do away with the current requirement for the police officer to conduct the test immediately at the roadside.
What is worrying, given what we now know about the street checks disproportionately affecting people of colour, is that these same citizens would likely face the same unfair profiling and be subjected more frequently to traffic stops.
Numerous legal experts agree Bill C-46’s random breath testing provision would have a disproportionate effect on people of colour. You only have to look to the carding scandal in Ontario to see how so-called random checks are effectively a licence to harass ethnic minorities, who are entitled to the same rights to privacy and freedom from state intrusions as everyone else.
Removing the reasonable breath test requirement from Bill C-46 would enshrine in law police power to stop whomever they please and would represent an unacceptable intrusion of the state into citizens’ lives.
Random stops only foster resentment towards the police force by certain communities that come in for more police attention than others. If we look to our neighbours to the south we can see how the relationship between African Americans and the police has broken down with stop-and-search, the US version of carding, a particular bone of contention.
You don’t have to be a person of colour to be outraged by the police disproportionately impacting the lives of Black and Indigenous Canadians. Laws governing how the police are allowed to interact with the people affect us all. The laws are in place not to hinder the police in their duty to protect us, but rather to protect us from them.
Vancouver Criminal Lawyer with a focus on impaired driving, cannabis legalization and related issues, and immediate roadside prohibition defence.