Know Your Rights
Racism and racial profiling are pressing and substantial problems that hurt individuals and poison our communities. Left unchecked, they deny the possibility of living in a just society. When the Ontario government banned carding on January 1, 2017, it was a vital step forward in concretely addressing racism and racial profiling in Toronto. Much work remains to be done, including the work of providing people with information about carding and the rights enacted in 2017 when the practice was banned. The purpose of the Know Your Rights Campaign is to educate and inform the public about their rights when interacting with a police officer.
In 2012, the Chief’s Internal Organizational Review examined all aspects of community engagement, leading to the creation of the Police And Community Engagement Review committee. After internal and external consultations, the PACER committee submitted a report with 31 recommendations intended to address bias-free delivery of policing services. Recommendation #4 was the creation of an advisory committee, comprised equally of Service members from all areas of the organization and community members and partner agencies invested in improving relations between police and the city’s Black communities. The PACER committee dedicated hours to ensuring the appropriate and thorough implementation of all 31 recommendations and continues to advise the Service on matters of fair and equitable delivery of policing.
Police Reform and PACER 2.0
In 2020, the Toronto Police Services Board approved 81 recommendations for police reform in a report entitled “Police Reform in Toronto: Systemic Racism, Alternative Community Safety and Crisis Response Models and Building New Confidence in Public Safety.” These recommendations established a roadmap for comprehensive policing reform in Toronto, and include building new community safety response models, various initiatives to address systemic racism and concrete steps to improve trust with our communities.
As a result of the Board’s 81 recommendations, Chief Ramer reconvened the Police and Community Engagement Review (PACER) as PACER 2.0.
Specifically, recommendation #70 reads: “Direct the Chief of Police to develop and execute a multi-faceted "know your rights" campaign before the end of 2020, on the basis of consultation and collaboration with various stakeholders, including representatives from the Board-funded Collective Impact initiative, representatives of Toronto’s Black and Indigenous communities, youth groups, and community-based organizations that serve vulnerable and marginalized populations.”
A Know Your Rights sub-committee of PACER 2.0 was created with the mandate to “inform the community what their legal rights are in their interactions with police.”
Frequently Asked Questions
“Street checks” are governed by Regulation 58/16 and refer to when a police officer speaks to you for the purpose of:
- Investigating general criminal activity in a community
- Inquiring into suspicious activities to detect offences
- Gathering information for intelligence purposes
When it comes to “street checks”, also known as Regulated Interactions, your participation is voluntary – you have the right not to answer an officer’s questions and the right to walk away from the officer.
If the officer asks for identifying information (such as your name, address, or age), the officer has a duty to:
- Inform you that you’re not required to provide any identifying information
- Inform you why they’re attempting to collect that information
- Offer a receipt of the interaction on the spot that contains the officer’s name, badge, division, date, time, location and reason you were asked on the receipt
- Provide that receipt if requested - you have the right to request it
- Uphold your right to leave
This is not carding and it is not an Informal Interaction.
If you’re on the street and an officer starts to speak with you – without any kind of investigative purpose – you can ask the officer why they are speaking with you and if you are free to leave. At any time you can choose to remain silent. In an informal interaction, the officer has a duty to inform you of why you are being stopped, uphold your right to not answer questions, and uphold your right to leave.
Whether you and an officer have a conversation or not, you can both part ways and go about your day.
This is not carding or a Regulated Interaction.
“Carding” is the arbitrary collection of identifying information by police, often associated with racial profiling.
An officer’s attempt to collect identifying information is likely to be arbitrary if the officer’s attempt is motivated by the fact that the person being questioned:
- happens to fall within a broad or vague race-based description
- is merely in a high crime location
- has declined to answer a question that they are not legally required to answer, OR
- attempts to discontinue interacting with the police when the person has the legal right to do so
Ontario law explicitly prohibits carding. It is illegal.
The Toronto Police Service has agreements with many different agencies – such as Toronto Community Housing Corporation, City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, and the Toronto Transit Commission - to enforce the Trespass to Property Act (Act). Police have duties under the Act, such as investigating people they reasonably suspect are trespassing.
- being somewhere you are prohibited from being
- engaging in prohibited activity on private property (for example, loitering or littering), or
- being on private property after you are directed to leave by the occupier
When an officer reasonably suspects that you are trespassing, the officer can ask you to demonstrate that you have a right to be there and, if you can’t or won’t do that, they can insist that you leave the property. Police can also insist you stop any prohibited activity. If you refuse to leave or to stop engaging in prohibited activity, police can issue you a Provincial Offences Act (POA) ticket or arrest you.
Police can also arrest you right after you have left the premises if they believe on reasonable and probable grounds that you have just committed a trespass, but only if you refuse to give the police your name and address, or they have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the name or address you have given them is false.
Unless the police have grounds to detain or arrest an individual, if a person wishes to leave (including by leaving the property or entering their own private home); police must let the person do so.
The courts have told police to treat a trespass arrest as a last resort that should only be attempted if other options prove ineffective to address a legitimate public safety concern (see, for example, R. v. Asante-Mensah, 2003 SCC 38). In other words, when faced with an apparent trespass, unless public safety cannot be addressed without making an arrest, police should instead caution the individual, order them to leave, or give them a POA ticket.
If police question you in relation to the Trespass to Property Act, you can:
- Ask questions (for example, why are you stopping me/asking me questions, am I free to go on my way within the property, am I free to leave the property).
- Provide information sufficient to demonstrate your right to be present on the property (that could be your ID or other information if it satisfies the officer (for example, you could tell them your name and apartment #, or offer to show them your proof of TTC payment).
- Stop engaging in any prohibited activity.
- Leave the property or continue on your way within the property after the officer confirms you are free to do so.
- Ask that the police leave you alone, let you move on, or give you a POA ticket and then leave you alone, in which case you will have to provide them with your name and address. Assuming you don’t live there, you may still have to leave the property.
- Remain silent. Note: If you choose to remain silent and refuse to leave in circumstances where the police believe you are trespassing, the police may decide to arrest you in order to identify you and issue you a POA ticket.
If you have privacy-related concerns about the collection of your personal information or if you would like to see the information collected, you can file a privacy complaint or request a copy of your personal information by contacting the Access and Privacy Section of the Toronto Police Service.
If you are not satisfied with the response, you can appeal to the Information & Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.