News / Edmonton

A Q&A with anti-carding activist and journalist Desmond Cole

Desmond Cole will be speaking about carding and how to address the issue at the CCIS building at the University of Alberta on July 15 at 7 p.m.

Activist Desmond Cole appears before the Toronto Police Service Board to discuss the funding of School Resource Officers (SRO) in local schools.

File photo

Activist Desmond Cole appears before the Toronto Police Service Board to discuss the funding of School Resource Officers (SRO) in local schools.

Activist and journalist Desmond Cole is coming to town to talk about issue of police street carding, and how to address it. Metro caught up with him in advance of his presentation at the University of Alberta on July 15.

Data that came out last month showed that Edmonton police were 3.6 times more likely to street check black Edmontonians and 6.5 times more likely to target Indigenous women when compared to white women. What do you make of the data?

All I can say about the numbers is they’re sadly consistent with the rest of the entire country. It doesn’t really matter what major city you look at in Canada, black and Indigenous people especially, along with middle-eastern people, are always disproportionally targeted by the police. This is not an accident; it’s being done on purpose.  

Police often cite the need to engage communities and Alberta’s justice minister recently said the province is planning to launch community consultations. Is that enough?

There’s a huge difference between talking to someone and engaging with them and demanding that they show their personal identification and tell you things about them, which you then input into a police database that everyone else can access. Those are not the same thing.  As for community consultations, that is a massive, massive insult to people who get carded. Why would I say that? Because our right not to be arbitrarily detained by the police is part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. So we why do we have to have a public consultation? That just shows me that when black and Indigenous people’s rights get violated, we have to have a conversation about it instead of just saying this needs to stop.

So what needs to be done?

Two things. All of the personal information of people who have been carded needs to be taken out of police hands. The second thing is the province of Alberta needs to strengthen its consequences for officers who engage in racist policing. I’ve never heard of a police officer in Canada who has been reprimanded or lost their job because they were targeting vulnerable groups of people.

Should the information be destroyed?

I don’t believe in destroying it because I believe our government and researchers can learn a lot about how police engage in racist activity by keeping that information … I want any individual who has ever been carded to have that information available to them.

Police have said police checks are not racially motivated and they target high crime and high-density areas. What is your response?

We would have to believe … That it just so happens that in every major city in Canada the police are patrolling the high-density areas, which also happen to be the high crime areas, which also happen to be where all the black and brown and Indigenous people live.  That’s kind of a reach. But people also have the right to live in a high crime or high-density area and not be harassed by the police.

Tell us what we can expect during your presentation.

I’ll be talking about what I’ve seen not only in my home city in Toronto, but across the country, just to give the folks of Alberta to know they are not alone in this. This is actually a systemic, nationwide problem of racist policing. But I also really want to talk about strategies … how do we confront the denial that’s going to come from government and the police? How do we counter that and make sure we stay focused on outcomes?

The answers have been edited and condensed for space. 

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