VANCOUVER—An activist and journalist from Toronto who has worked for years to bring attention to racial profiling by police says he was carded while visiting Vancouver.
Desmond Cole recorded and posted to Twitter a video of himself describing the midday incident on Tuesday. He said he had barely been in the city for 24 hours and was walking on a sidewalk on his way to Stanley Park while smoking a cigarette when a police cruiser passed him and then turned around.
“This officer then proceeded to tell me that I was breaking a city bylaw by smoking in a public park,” Cole said.
“This officer told me I was breaking a bylaw; I said I’m not in a park and I’m not from around here — and the first question was: What’s your name?”
Cole then said that for the next “15 minutes” the police officer tried to get him to divulge his personal information and he refused. The confrontation ended, Cole said, with the officer threatening to “put his handcuffs on me and take me down to the station.”
Cole claims the officer also said, “I’ll be seeing you again,” an admonishment Cole found particularly disturbing.
“Remember, this is for what he claims is a bylaw infraction,” Cole said, adding that he plans to make an official complaint to the Vancouver Police Department about the incident.
The VPD denies a street check was conducted.
“We were made aware of this video this afternoon, and my colleagues have looked into it,” Const. Jason Doucette wrote in an email.
“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.”
Cole did not immediately respond to StarMetro’s request for comment.
In the video, Cole said that he finds it ironic the incident happened just before he was set to meet with staff at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association about the issue of carding (when police stop people in the street and ask to see identification or other personal questions).
A recent data release showed that the VPD disproportionately ask Indigenous and Black residents for their identification: while Indigenous people make up just 2 per cent of the city’s population, they made up 16 per cent of street checks, and while Black people are just 1 per cent of the population, they make up 5 per cent of street checks in Vancouver.
In response to calls for change from the BCCLA and First Nations groups, the VPD has said it is open to a possible third-party review into street checks.
On Friday, Cole will speak at a fundraising gala for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Vancouver. The subject of his speech is “how, as Black Canadians continue to expose the realities of anti-black racism in this country, they are often met with impatient questions — Wasn’t that so long ago? Aren’t we headed in the right direction now?”
Jen St. Denis is a Vancouver-based reporter covering affordability and city hall. Follow her on Twitter: @jenstden