B.C. students allege police targeting by age, race

Posted by admin on Dec 4th, 2007

Tuesday, December 4, 2007. CBC News

A brother and sister from Vancouver Island have filed official complaints against Victoria police, alleging officers unfairly targeted and harassed them, possibly because of their race, their ages and the type of cars they drive.”I’ve been demoralized, humiliated and I feel like I’ve been mistreated,” said Bobby Kapoor, 24.”When they [the police] take it to an extreme, when they can clearly see that you aren’t doing anything wrong, then it’s too much,” said his sister, Monica, 23. The Kapoor family, who are of South Asian descent, recently moved to Victoria from Manitoba. Monica said she still lives in Winnipeg and attends university there, while Bobby is in college in Victoria. They often drive their mother’s new cars.

Over the last few months, they said, they’ve been detained several times by police and hit with what they see as unwarranted fines, tickets and charges. “Do you not have someone else you can really concentrate our taxpayers’ money on … [instead of] harassing children?” asked their mother, Christine. “To me, it’s totally harassment. I find it an abuse of power.”

Christine Kapoor says what police did to her children is an abuse of power. “People have sort of prejudices,” said Bobby. “When given an opportunity, they act on it — and that’s discrimination.”

The RCMP first pulled Bobby over a few months ago for not wearing a seatbelt. When police discovered the vehicle had no turn signal, Kapoor also was ticketed for that, his vehicle was impounded and his out-of-province licence was seized.”It ended up being a $600 to $700 ticket, out of not wearing a seatbelt,” Kapoor said. “How extreme can police officers actually go?”

Kapoor believes that because his name was then in the police system, he was singled out by Victoria police two weeks later when a group of friends got into an argument with a cabbie over the fare. Kapoor said he was the only one arrested. After he protested, he was charged with mischief and obstructing a police officer. “Someone’s got to stand up and say this is wrong,” Kapoor said. “It goes beyond just being a [visible] minority. It goes beyond driving nice cars. If they really don’t like you for the way you dress, the way you look, the smile you have at that moment, they can really screw you.”

His sister Monica feels she was also unfairly treated. She went through a police roadblock in November and said a breathalyzer test showed her blood-alcohol level was zero. The Victoria police officer gave her a ticket for not having a licence. When she pointed out that she did have a Manitoba licence, she said the officer told her, “No you don’t, because I have it now.”

Victoria police spokesperson Grant Hamilton says the Kapoors’ concerns will be addressed. Police confirm that her breathalyzer showed no alcohol in her system and that she was ticketed and had her licence taken on the grounds that it was an out-of-province licence. Drivers have three months to obtain new licences when they move to B.C. from another province.

“He wouldn’t even let me give him proof that I had been back and forth to Winnipeg, that I live and go to school in Winnipeg. He didn’t want any of that. He didn’t want to be open to reason,” Monica Kapoor said.

“I think it’s a misunderstanding,” said Victoria police spokesperson Grant Hamilton. “We have a very diverse community, we have a great reputation and that’s not something we do.” Hamilton said he can’t discuss the criminal charges against Bobby Kapoor, but the family’s concerns will be addressed through the complaint process.

“They’ve submitted that formal complaint. We have to investigate it.” Hamilton also insisted police are not targeting anyone. He pointed out that two of the three times they dealt with Monica Kapoor, she was stopped at a roadblock. Christine Kapoor said when her children go out now, she lies awake, worrying what might happen if they have another encounter with police.

“My biggest fear is when is that phone going to ring? What is going to be on the other end?” she said. “[The police] are creating such a lot of despair and anxiety for parents like me. I don’t believe I am the only person. I know there are a lot of people in the community who are too scared to speak out.”

“It’s causing a lot of fear with a lot of people I know,” added Monica.

Kirk Tousaw of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association says what the Kapoor family went through is making the public lose respect for law enforcement. The family is speaking publicly partly, they said, because they don’t have faith police can be impartial while investigating themselves.

“When you experience this kind of treatment you feel that is unjust at the hands of police, you lose respect for the police, you lose respect for law enforcement,” said Kirk Tousaw, a lawyer with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. At a time when B.C. police are on a campaign to target suspected gang members in fancy cars, people from visible minority groups have good reason to be concerned, Tousaw said.

“You have police making snap judgments about who to stop and who to detain, based not really on facts, but more hunches and intuitions — and that’s a problem.” The crackdown on gang members has no influence on how Victoria police officers treat young people on the street, Hamilton said.

“We stop people for a variety of reasons,” he said.

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