Toronto carding activist Desmond Cole stopped by police in Vancouver

Toronto \carding\ activist Desmond Cole stopped by police in Vancouver
Toronto activist carded while in Vancouver to give keynote address on racial equity
A Toronto activist known for his criticism of the controversial police practice known as "carding" claims he was stopped by an officer in Vancouver because he's black.

Desmond Cole was walking near Marina Square Park on Tuesday when a police officer in a car pulled over and told him he was breaking a city bylaw for smoking in a park. But Cole says he wasn't in the park — he was walking on the sidewalk. The officer then repeatedly asked Cole for his name, he says, which he refused to supply. 

Cole said that a VPD officer in a police cruiser stopped and questioned him when he was walking down Bayshore Drive on the edge of Marina Square while smoking. Cole said that the officer told him that smoking in a park was against a bylaw, which led to a disagreement about whether the place Cole as standing was within park limits. Cole said the officer then to give his name, and Cole refused — and then things quickly escalated.

"I believe that this police officer saw a black man in a hoodie walking down the street, and he thought he would have a good chance of being able to stop me, ask me whether or not I have any warrants out for my arrest, run my name through his database and otherwise just harass me and waste my time," Cole said.

"This has happened to me so many times. I'm very familiar with this kind of police activity and the kind of excuses that they use to trick you into giving your information."

thank you to everyone who reached out in support. I went to police headquarters to report what happened (I didn't file a formal complaint as I have no faith in police investigating themselves). a sergeant eventually came to a café to speak with me

Cole is an outspoken critic of carding, also known as street checks — when officers stop, question and demand identification documents from people, even when they're not suspected of any specific crime. 

“We have to start deciding whether stopping black people walking down the street on bylaw offences, by somebody with a gun or a taser, and driving a vehicle, using an enormous amount of resources to do what he did to me yesterday, and Vancouverites and Canadians have to decided if this is a good use of our resources,” he said in an interview.

Ontario limited the practice last year in an effort to curb systemic racism in the criminal justice system. 

“We have to start deciding whether stopping black people walking down the street on bylaw offences, by somebody with a gun or a taser, and driving a vehicle, using an enormous amount of resources to do what he did to me yesterday, and Vancouverites and Canadians have to decided if this is a good use of our resources,” he said in an interview.

A Vancouver Police Department spokesperson said in a written statement Cole was stopped for a bylaw infraction, not a street check. Cole's information wasn't recorded, the spokesperson said. Ultimately, the officer opted not to give Cole a ticket. 

“I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with him about this matter, but I will be soon and I’ll bring it up when I meet with him next,” he said. “But I have received a briefing from his office about this, so just trying to pull this all together to get a good understanding of what’s happened here.”

"Our officers work through difficult situations every day and a key component of maintaining public safety is interacting with the public," Vancouver police said.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with him about this matter, but I will be soon and I’ll bring it up when I meet with him next,” he said. “But I have received a briefing from his office about this, so just trying to pull this all together to get a good understanding of what’s happened here.”

"VPD officers carry out their duties with integrity, compassion and respect and are accountable for their actions."

“The claim made in the video is not accurate. A street check was not conducted and no information was recorded. The officer did approach Mr. Cole about a bylaw infraction. In this case, our officer used his discretion and chose not to serve a bylaw offence ticket,” said Const. Jason Doucette in the statement.

Cole says it's important for people to stand up for themselves, if they can, when faced with racism from police in order to stop discriminatory practices from happening in the first place. 

"This is the kind of policing that is wasting our money and that is marginalizing people in our communities," he said. 

Cole is in Vancouver to give a talk at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives about black racism in Canada. He says he came a few days early to take some time off and relax, which he was planning to do in Stanley Park on Tuesday. 

In a previous story, StarMetro found that the VPD considered “street checks” to be a specific type of interaction, usually involving suspected criminal activity. However, police could be involved in many other kinds of interactions with the public that are not officially recorded.

"I really had a hard time sleeping last night because I kept on replaying what happened to me over and over and over again in my head."

“So glad to have @DesmondCole in town for this year’s @CCPA_BC gala. And very disappointed to hear that he was carded his first day here. The stats as stories are worth reading. We need to end carding in Vancouver. #BlackLivesMatter #IndigenousLivesMatter” her tweet said.

Earlier this year, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed a complaint with the province's police complaints commissioner, based on data released under a Freedom of Information request.

“So glad to have @DesmondCole in town for this year’s @CCPA_BC gala. And very disappointed to hear that he was carded his first day here. The stats as stories are worth reading. We need to end carding in Vancouver. #BlackLivesMatter #IndigenousLivesMatter” her tweet said.

The data shows that 15 per cent of all street checks conducted between 2008 and 2017 were of Indigenous people — yet they make up just two per cent of the population.

Josh Paterson, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, confirmed that he had met with Cole following the incident on Tuesday. He said that while the organization is not calling for a complete end to carding, they want to see an end to discrimination within the practice.

According to police data, four per cent of those checked were black, despite black people making up less than one per cent of Vancouver's population.

Josh Paterson, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, confirmed that he had met with Cole following the incident on Tuesday. He said that while the organization is not calling for a complete end to carding, they want to see an end to discrimination within the practice.

The Vancouver Police Department defended street checks and argued that officers don't arbitrarily card people.

Tom Stamatakis, the president of the Canadian Police Association and the Vancouver Police Union, defended the practice of checking people in the community.

Cole said he replied that he was not in a park and wasnt from the city. He refused the officers repeated requests to give his name or show identification. He said the officer threatened to arrest him, but after about 15 minutes he left without issuing a ticket.

"These are checks that are conducted for a specific police purpose or a public safety purpose and it's driven by the actions of the individual," Stamatakis said. 

Race and ethnicity are never the reason for any interaction with a member of the public, Stamatakis said. 

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In the video, he said he was smoking a cigarette on a sidewalk near Stanley Park when a police cruiser passed, pulled a U-Turn and stopped next to him. The officer told him he was breaking a bylaw against smoking in parks, Cole said.

Former Toronto Star writer Desmond Cole speaking about the issue of Canada wide police carding in Calgary, Alta. on July 13, 2017.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs have filed a complaint with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner calling for an independent review of the practice.

A Toronto activist and journalist who is in Vancouver to give a keynote address on racial equity was stopped by police near Stanley Park on Tuesday in what he alleges was a racially based street check by police.

Street checks involve officers stopping a person and recording their information, regardless of whether an offence has been committed. Opponents say street checks disproportionately target people of colour.

The Vancouver Police Department is disputing Desmond Coles account, saying a street check was not conducted and no information was collected.

VANCOUVER — A Toronto activist and writer who was stopped by Vancouver police a day after arriving in the city says his experience reveals what daily life is like for black and Indigenous residents.

Mr. Cole, however, says the only reason no information was collected was that he refused to provide it.

Police in the city conducted an internal review and released a report that says there was “no statistical basis” to conclude officers use the checks to discriminate against certain races.

They [VPD] say they didnt collect any information – they didnt say they didnt try to collect information. They attempted to collect my information and I refused, which I have done many times in the past, Mr. Cole said Wednesday in a telephone interview, referring to police interactions in other cities.

The incident, which Mr. Cole described in a video he posted on social media, comes amid controversy over Vancouver Police data that show the departments use of street checks in 2017 disproportionately involved individuals who were Indigenous or black. The department has said street checks are a valuable public safety tool and not driven by ethnicity.

In a recent report, the VPD described street checks as a type of interaction arising from non-random contact between members of the public and police and said they typically occur when a police officer views suspicious or potentially criminal behaviour.

“I get to leave Vancouver this weekend, but people have to live here every day. Thats what I really want people to sit with,” said Cole in an interview Wednesday.

The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the BC Civil Liberties Association in June filed a complaint over the street checks, arguing the disproportionate number of stops were discriminatory. In September, the citys police board ordered an independent review of the issue.

In the interview, Cole said the officer also asked several times whether there were any warrants out for his arrest.

Mr. Cole said he was stopped while walking on a sidewalk, on his way to Stanley Park, and smoking a cigarette. An officer in a police cruiser passed him, turned around and then stopped to address him.

Mr. Cole said the officer told him he was breaking a city bylaw by smoking in a park, though Mr. Cole disputes that he was within the park boundaries. He said the officer then asked Mr. Cole to provide his name and other information.

A street check was not conducted and no information was recorded. The officer did approach Mr. Cole about a bylaw infraction. In this case, our officer used his discretion and chose not to serve a bylaw offence ticket, VPD spokesman Constable Jason Doucette said in an e-mail.

That response misses the point, said Josh Paterson, executive director of the civil liberties association.

Whether its a street check or not, its a police stop – and from what [Mr. Cole] says, it sounds like an arbitrary stop, Mr. Paterson said. Our complaint is about more than just street checks; its about arbitrary and discriminatory police stops, and thats what this looks like to us.

Mr. Cole is in Vancouver at the invitation of the B.C. branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-leaning think tank that focuses on issues including climate change, labour laws and income inequality.

He is scheduled to speak Thursday at an annual fundraising gala with a keynote speech billed as, Are We There Yet? The Struggle for Racial Equity in Canada.

Mr. Cole wrote a regular freelance column for the Toronto Star, but stopped in 2017 after the paper told him his actions at a Toronto Police Services Board meeting in April, 2017, crossed the publications line between activism and journalism.

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