Steamrolling Charter rights in street surveillance

Street surveillance, sometimes called street checks or “carding,” are a common practice for police in Edmonton, Alberta. It was recently revealed in The Star that those same police have been handing over data harvested from street surveillance to intelligence authorities–who have then, in turn, constructed profiles on entire communities without any specific allegation of criminal behaviour.

Much to my frustration, there is a substantial portion of Canadian progressives who stop paying attention after the ballot box. The Liberals aren’t “the same” as the Conservatives, but they don’t differ in a number of critical areas–including surveillance, the tool that arguably threatens grassroots organizing the most.

Cell phone video of an Edmonton Police Service (EPS) officer’s interaction with a group of young black men at a south side gym last month offered a rare close-up look at the controversial practice of carding – or street checks, as the police prefer to call it – and raises troubling questions about whether EPS is violating citizens’ Charter rights even as both the Edmonton Police Commission and the provincial justice department is reviewing the practice.

On the video, an officer can be seen engaging with a group of young men who are waiting around for a manager to give them a refund. The officer demands the men produce identification and when they question why, they are all threatened with arrest. When one of the young men says he doesn’t feel comfortable giving the officer his identification, the officer responds (at 3:07 of the video clip), “You don’t feel comfortable? How about I tell you right now that you’re under arrest for obstruction? Turn around and put your hands behind your back.”

The incident – which arose out of a now-resolved commercial dispute between a business and customers (neither of which wished to be quoted on the record for this story) resulted in no arrests. No complaint that a crime had been committed was ever filed.

“While there are some occasions when an individual is required by law to provide identification,” she said, “It does not appear that the individuals depicted in the video would be required to do so as there is no lawful basis for an arrest and minimal prior investigation to justify them as being legitimate suspects.”

We asked the Edmonton Police Service if they felt the officer acted appropriately. “Based upon the information provided by both parties and a review of the incident, the EPS believes the officers’ actions were appropriate,” responded EPS communications advisor Carolin Maran.

“Reviews” and “panels” won’t stop this. It’ll be up to the grassroots organizers once again to summon enough pressure to end the practice. The same organizers who have dossiers in Canadian intelligence, because we inconvenience the State by delegitimizing their abuses.

Read more from Mimi Williams here.



  1. says

    It’s weird that I, a white woman, have never been carded by EPS despite white women having broken laws. But I suspect that if everything else in my life was exactly the same – my residence, my job, my clothing – but I was First Nations, I probably wouldn’t be able to say the same thing.

  2. says

    those same police have been handing over data harvested from street surveillance to intelligence authorities–who have then, in turn, constructed profiles on entire communities without any specific allegation of criminal behaviour

    The US FBI has been using that sort of community-mapping to approach with agent provocateurs to see if they can get people to commit to having radical intentions. It skirts just along the edge of the standard for entrapment, because the FBI agents are careful not to encourage the target to do anything, but they’ll offer them aid – i.e.: if the target says “I want to blow up a building” they may offer explosives (they arrest them when they meet to get the ‘explosives’)

    In other words, they have discovered that a great way to catch terrorists is to create them, then catch their creations. The only problem with that technique is that they only catch stupid desperate terrorists who have no idea how to actually do anything. This has been going on since 9/11 and virtually every terrorism bust the FBI has done has been a terrorist of the FBI’s creation.

  3. says

    (I’d bet a large amount of $$ that the US has provided tech assistance; it’s probably using the same software and techniques as the US uses – Palantir, massive wiretapping, pervasive tapping of social media – all tricks the US taught CSE back in the 80’s so they could bypass the “no domestic surveillance” rule by having CSE spy on Americans and cross-share the take)