Dear Chief Duncan,
My name is Susan Toth. I am a resident of London, Ontario, and I am writing to you in response to the actions of your police force as part of Project LEARN.
You say in an interview that you are merely requesting personal information, and that all of the information is recorded in the police system.
You say that students do not have to comply.
I suggest, Chief Duncan, that you consider three major problems with this campaign.
1) Impact and Optics of this Method
What advantage can be gained by collecting the names and personal identification of students who are not accused of any crime, as well as their parents’ contact information? In what possible way does it reduce crime, vandalism, noise levels, or rioting? Do you have any data to suggest that collecting this information has any impact on levels of mischief?
Most people are raised to respect police and, as you are well aware, will feel compelled to cooperate with them when asked. They will not, in most cases, exercise their civil rights to refuse, even if they are aware of those rights. And if they refuse to comply, it is reasonable to assume that their refusal is also recorded in the police system to the detriment of the person refusing. The inherent intimidation is apparent.
It’s a no-win scenario. Police want to be respected and need and expect cooperation. And yet, if they have that respect and cooperation, and it is abused, it will lead to less cooperation and respect. Ironically, an unintended outcome of this campaign is a greater awareness and a greater reluctance by students to cooperate with police.
This egregious aspect of Project LEARN will further undermine the already suffering reputation of the London Police Services within London and beyond, following other recent poor judgment calls under your watch. It will further lead to your police force being less effective in the long run.
2) Privacy and Profiling
In the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision involving the use of sniffer dogs, issues of privacy and profiling are addressed in the strongest possible terms. The Court unanimously rules out profiling as grounds for suspicion. Targeting student neighbourhoods is a form of profiling.
In fact, the Court in R v. Chehil  SCC 49, said, “profile characteristics are not a substitute for objective facts that raise a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.”
While the Court allows for greater latitude in violating privacy in areas where security takes precedence, or where our privacy expectations are low, such as airports, a home remains an area where the highest standard of respect of privacy must apply.
I will be forwarding a copy of this letter to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and asking for an investigation.
3) Violation of s. 7 and s. 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms
While it is true that it’s not illegal for police to ask for a person’s name, and a person is not legally compelled to answer (as long as they are not in control of a vehicle), that is not the scenario with which we are here faced. This systematic collection of data goes well beyond asking one or two people walking down the street what their names are.
By openly, actively, and methodically collecting personal information without a warrant and without reasonable grounds, the police force is in clear violation of the spirit of section 7 and section 8 of the Charter. In my opinion, it is also in actual violation of the Charter.
As police officers, you should be held to a higher standard of upholding the supreme law of the land. Rather than expect students to invoke their rights, you should not be seeking to violate those rights to begin with.
Invading a person’s privacy is only an acceptable limit to our section 8 rights in the most serious of criminal investigations, e.g. drug trafficking. Even then, certain areas continue to command a measure of privacy. In R. v. A.M,  1 S.C.R. 569, the Supreme Court recognized that “ordinary businessmen and businesswomen riding along on public transit, or going up and down on elevators in office towers would be outraged at any suggestion that the contents of their briefcases could randomly be inspected by the police without ‘reasonable suspicion’ of illegality.” This same reasoning applies with greater strength when meeting people in the safety and privacy of their own homes.
The Oakes test remains the standard by which limits to our Charter rights are determined. Questions asked include: is there a pressing and substantial objective? Does the limitation of the Charter right have a rational connection to the objective? Is the objective proportional to the effect of the law? Does the benefit outweigh the seriousness of the infringement? And most importantly, does the law minimally impair the limit of our rights?
The police actions in this case do not meet any of the above tests. Perhaps there is a pressing and substantial objective—Liquor Enforcement and Reduction of Noise. The violation of a Charter right for this project is a drastic and grossly disproportionate response to the objective. In addition, the invasion of privacy in this matter does not have a rational connection to this objective, and neither is it the least intrusive method of meeting this objective.
In summation, the actions committed under Project LEARN in this regard are not only counterproductive to public safety and maintaining an important positive relationship between citizens and police, but they are also unethical and in opposition to the spirit, at the very least, of Canadian law, and our citizens’ rights and freedoms.
I hope, Chief Duncan, that you will put an immediate stop to this approach, and I hope that those to whom I am copying this letter will seek your immediate resignation if you do not apologize and promise to immediately destroy all information collected from Project LEARN.
Oct 23, 2013 UPDATE: I’ve received a lot of feedback regarding my call for Chief Duncan’s resignation. I stand by that call IF he does not apologize and agree to destroy all the records that have been collected.
Let me be very clear: I know that Chief Duncan has done great things for the city. Many leaders in the community that I respect and admire have said that he has changed things for people struggling with mental health issues.
My blog was never intended to undermine any of the good Chief Duncan has done. I applaud him from that work.
Lets not forget, however, that the degradation of our civil liberties will undermine all the good work the Chief has done. People with mental health issues are more vulnerable to violations of their Charter rights.
The Chief of Police has the highest obligation to uphold the law. If he cannot recognize that the actions of his officers in collecting private information door to door violated the laws he is charged with upholding, then I have some grave concerns about him continuing as Chief. His continued insistence that the information requested was voluntary continues to suggest he does not understand the dynamics. The students I spoke to that had been visited by police said they were not once told that the providing information was voluntary.
If the Chief does recognize that a mistake was made, then I welcome that display of leadership and integrity and will gladly withdraw my call for him to resign. I have no interest in seeking the resignation of someone who has taken responsibility for their actions. That is exactly the quality we need more of in public service.
But until that happens, I am stand by my call for his resignation.
Finally, a local law professor seems to suggest that preventing horrific crimes that result from alcohol consumption does justify the actions of police. While that may be a point worth arguing, I have one major question: how does collecting private information prevent those crimes? Violating rights are justifiable if you can show that that it has a rational connection to the objective. As of yet, I have not seen how collecting private information is connected to prevention of crime.