As police violence in Alberta escalates, Kathleen Ganley offers a mea culpa on carding

The Alberta NDP leadership race has been characterized to date by its lack of substantive disagreement and policy debate, but here and there some candidates have had some surprising things to say—and one of the biggest surprises has been a reversal from former justice minister Kathleen Ganley on the issue of carding.

If you haven’t been attending the leadership debates (or following at home along with my colleague Jeremy’s live-tweet coverage), you may not have heard this one. I hadn’t either, until a Ganley campaign volunteer brought her statements at an April 6 Black community forum for NDP supporters in Calgary to my attention.

The April 6 leadership candidate forum targeted Black communities in Calgary. Poster image from Eventbrite

Naheed Nenshi, Sarah Hoffman and Kathleen Ganley spoke at this April 6 forum, which was hosted by Moses Mariam and MLA David Shepherd.

According to the volunteer, Ganley apologized at that event for failing to get the legislative work done to ban carding, the Charter rights-violating process in which police demand ID from members of the public without legal cause.

Carding doesn’t just intimidate and disrespect people—it provides a pretense for unnecessary police interactions that can lead to pointless uses of force or incarceration. Once your ID and a record of your police interaction end up in the system, they’re shared far beyond your local police force. The Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) shares data with many organizations, including not just other police forces but the Canada Border Services Agency and even foreign agencies like the United States Department of Homeland Security.

Researchers in Alberta found that Black and Indigenous residents of Alberta were carded far more often than people of other ethnicities. One 2017 study found that Black people in Lethbridge were more than nine times more likely to be carded than whites, and Indigenous people more than five times more likely. A similar 2017 study in Edmonton found that the Edmonton Police Services (EPS) was more than ten times more likely to card an Indigenous woman than a white man.

Data clearly shows carding in Edmonton to have been a racist practice. From the 2017 report on carding by Black Lives Matter Edmonton

Ganley’s apology at the forum didn’t attract media coverage, but there’s no indication that her campaign wants to keep the message quiet. She raised it herself again in a June 2 leadership debate. And when I inquired about the forum, Ganley’s campaign staff were keen to set up an interview. 

“That was my file—and I didn’t get it done.”

In our conversation, Ganley was quick to identify the lack of a carding ban as a failure, and she didn’t point fingers for it at anyone but herself.

Ganley argued that the work to draw up anti-carding legislation spun out due to mistakes made during her consultations with affected communities.

“We had wanted to proceed with community input,” Ganley told me.

“We sent out surveys to many community organizations to make sure we were headed in the right direction. But I asked the wrong questions. My background is in legal work and so I asked many legalistic questions, which did not receive a lot of responses.

“We tried to focus consultation on unhoused people and on people who had been subjected to the practice [of carding],” said Ganley, “but the answers we received were more about a desire to be treated with respect by police than about specific policy changes.”

Ganley’s account gave the impression that cabinet was divided on what should actually be in an anti-carding bill, and were looking to consultation to break the deadlock.

“The consultation did go before cabinet, to get buy-in on the questions we were asking. The difficulty was that we had various ideas on the regulation side, but we just didn’t gather sufficient responses in terms of what the public wanted to see, or what they thought would be most helpful.

“It became clear that I had asked the wrong questions, and that’s why we could not move forward with legislation that we could genuinely say was based in consultation.”

Ganley demurred when I asked why cabinet did not enact the demands that Black Lives Matter Edmonton, Black Lives Matter Calgary, and the researchers working with them had presented.

Those demands had included an immediate ban on the practice of carding, deleting all police records created through carding, a penalty of some sort for police who broke the ban, and creating a blacklist of rule-breaking cops in Alberta.

“Desmond [Cole] and BLM’s suggestions were valid, and good information for us,” said Ganley, “but we still needed a broader-based consultation with communities of all sorts. We wanted to make sure we didn’t get into a situation where some communities had one idea while others had another.”

But the difficulties in consultation don’t excuse what happened, Ganley told me. “That was my file,” Ganley said. “I didn’t get it done. I failed to get it over the line.”

The NDP’s failure to get anti-carding legislation written allowed the UCP to capitalize on the issue later. In 2020, UCP justice minister Kaycee Madu introduced legislation that was presented as a carding ban. 

Kaycee Madu, UCP Justice Minister from August 2020 through February 2022, enacted legislation that claimed to ban carding—but actually entrenched it. Image from the Government of Alberta Newsroom

But the UCP carding law isn’t a ban—rather it defines the most egregious rights violations as “carding,” defines some less extreme but still unjust interactions as “street checks,” and then fully legalizes what the UCP and police define as “street checks.”

“I found [Madu’s bill] troubling,” Ganley told me.

“It potentially gives the OK to practices that would otherwise have been illegal. If it did anything, it actually made things worse.”

“Full spectrum approach” needed to protect Black and Indigenous Albertans

Social disorder has risen sharply since COVID-19 hit Alberta, and the approach of the UCP government and law enforcement has been to attempt to police it away.

Like carding, this policing falls heavily on Black and Indigenous people in Alberta, exposing them to disproportionate amounts of fines, incarceration and police violence.

Ganley is clearly not a defund-the-police believer. But what she told me about public safety and policing in Alberta wasn’t thin blue line stuff, either.

“I don’t ever want anyone to be unsafe, and I do believe the police have a role, but in a general sense our approach is way too police-based,” said Ganley.

“As justice minister, I spoke with police chiefs very regularly and they told me consistently that the most cost-effective investment you can make to improve public safety is actually housing. That’s the investment you make to do this in an effective way… It’s not just the people the folks across the aisle call communists who believe that. The evidence supports it.

“And there are other ways to help–ensuring that people have places to be during the day, that they have access to supervised consumption sites, that they have mental health support.”

(Those police chiefs would go on to repay Ganley’s consultation and deference by campaigning for Danielle Smith, in 2023, through their organization the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police.)

When it comes to making sure specifically that Black and Indigenous Albertans are safe from the police, Ganley argued for a combination of economic improvements and police reform.

“I think it’s an across the spectrum approach, and I can’t move forward on any of this without consultation, but right now in Calgary we have general underinvestment—many ethnic communities live in the north-east part of the city and are under-served by schools, streets, and roads—I think more quality in general will help,” she said.

“But with policing specifically I think the problem has a lot to do with recruitment. It’s difficult when only certain communities are reflected in the police themselves.

“I think there are some very specific things we can do in terms of recruitment and training to make sure that the service is a reflection of the community. Anti-bias training, not just in the police but throughout the whole justice system, is needed. It is often the case that sentences are harsher for racialized people in the justice system, so that training needs to permeate the entire system.”

Kathleen Ganley can’t escape her record—and neither can her rivals

I was somewhat heartened to hear an apology from Ganley on carding, not just as a critic of the police but personally, considering the many hours Duncan and I put into supporting the campaign against carding several years ago.

But Ganley can’t avoid the reality that actions speak louder than words.

Each leadership candidate is in the fraught position of having to argue that they best represent the NDP’s social democratic values despite actions on their record to the contrary.

For Ganley, it’s carding, which has led many in the left-activist circles I frequent to conclude that Ganley is a reflexive police-defender.

Sarah Hoffman has to wear the years of wage freezes that the Alberta NDP imposed on public health workers and continuing the PCs’ privatization of long-term care, forays into public sector austerity grossly at odds with ‘NDP values.’

Naheed Nenshi has to wear all of his actions as mayor, including an attempt to break collective agreements and privatize city services that was documented in a letter published last month. 

And while Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse has less of a public record than her rivals, in her time with the Edmonton Police Commission she was seen as a close ally of the cop-defending chair John McDougall, going so far as to try to have councilor Anne Stevenson ejected from the commission for associating with a “known critic of police.” 

It’s difficult to trust any of these candidates when you look back at what they actually did in power. While chatting with Ganley, I found myself very suspicious. The suggestion that diversifying the racial makeup of the police would solve any problems strikes me as excessively reformist and insufficient—though some research does suggest it might modestly reduce police violence.

What struck me as most suspect was the explanation that anti-carding legislation got bogged down in consultation. It’s true that committees and consultation can be used to refine legislation. But something I learned was also true, in my brief time working with the NDP caucus during the Notley administration, is that sometimes you send things to committee or consultation to die. Ganley says today that it was not her intention for the consultation to go nowhere, but there is no way to verify that.

I was unable to reach the BLM YEG activists who led the 2017-2018 anti-carding campaign, but my former colleague Adora Nwofor, who is active in efforts to oppose police violence and anti-Blackness in Calgary today, offered me her perspective—and was skeptical too.

"Until anti-Blackness is taken seriously this conversation will continue to be performative,” Nwofor wrote to me. 

“We say our needs and make positive impact on the community at large. We speak for ourselves and our stance is consistently misunderstood, misconstrued and misappropriated…”

“Our collective humanity is not on the market for government to make headway… We are progress, we make progress no matter the situation.  Acknowledgement for our benefit from our progress is rare, erased or invalidated. Our thriving does not harm humanity, it is the demise of oppression. As an expert at the practice of anti-racism, we need action, the discussion during election season is not change.”

Temitope Oriola, a University of Alberta sociologist who focuses on criminology, is similarly skeptical of Ganley’s mea culpa. Oriola was tapped by Ganley's successor Kaycee Madu as an advisor, so he was close to this file.

“I am glad to see Honourable Kathleen Ganley acknowledge responsibility. It was indeed her ministry's remit and her file. There did not seem to be any serious engagement with many Black and other minority communities on that issue,” wrote Oriola. 

The general suggestion from Ganley that consultation was directed at the wrong people sounded plausible, Oriola said.

“The decision-makers at the time missed the mark as there were gaps vis-a-vis the voices in the room. It appeared emblematic of a broader blindspot occasioned by narrow understanding of their priorities and political base…  To be fair, the NDP government made giant strides in several other areas, but did not seem to have the appetite or personnel in appropriate governmental portfolios to feel the pulse of or act on the concerns of Black communities.”

But Oriola also raised the concern that the consultations, if not a deliberate attempt to rag the puck, were still a performative substitute for real action.

“I no longer believe 'consultations' should be considered concrete action. Not anymore. These issues have now been studied to death,” he said. 

Police raids of campus protests deeply concerning, says Ganley

Ganely closed our conversation with a quick chat about the raids by Edmonton and Calgary police on pro-Palestine protests at the Universities of Alberta and Calgary, and Ganley reiterated what she had to say in her statement from the day after the crackdown at the U of C.

“We were all incredibly troubled by those images [of the police raid],” said Ganley.

Police in Edmonton raid the Palestinian solidarity camp at the University of Alberta, May 10, 2024. Image clipped from the People's University for Palestine YEG Instagram

“Many of us were students who engaged in those sorts of processes ourselves. That’s the time when you are learning about the world, your place in it, how to make change, when to stand up, where to be pragmatic—it’s a big learning experience.

“Those students are being deprived of it. The reaction to these student protests, with people from racialized communities and allies caring about human rights, in contrast to the lack of action when people shut down borders or put up encampments along highways—it’s very problematic to act like some Albertans have the right to protest and some don’t.”

Ganley and the NDP are calling for an independent investigation of both raids.

“My concern with having ASIRT do the investigation is that first, it is often perceived to be the police investigating themselves. It’s technically an independent agency, but we need an investigation that has people from the impacted communities involved in it,” Ganley said.

The decision university administrators made to call the cops on the encampments, Ganley added, warrants scrutiny, but would be beyond the scope of an ASIRT probe.

Ganley recalled that protest encampments during her days as a U of C student appear to have been handled far differently by administrators.

“The public deserves to know what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. Because it looks like a move suggesting that my daughter, by the time she gets through university, isn’t going to have the right to protest at all,” she said.

This story has been corrected from an earlier version which identified Prof. Temitope Oriola as an advisor to Justice Minister Ganley. Oriola was an advisor to Justice Minister Madu.