Two Edmonton civic election candidates square off over police carding

Two Edmonton civic election candidates who have been carded in the past are squaring off over the controversial issue of police street checks.

Ward 9 candidate Payman Parseyan supports street checks as Ward 4 candidate Aaron Paquette calls for a ban

Payman Parseyan (left) is a council candidate for Edmonton's Ward 9, while Aaron Paquette is a candidate in Ward 4. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Two Edmonton civic election candidates who have been carded in the past are squaring off over the controversial issue of police street checks.

It comes as the debate heated up this week over street checks after the release of Edmonton police figures showing that black and Indigenous people are disproportionately stopped and asked for identification.

"Carding is a disturbing trend and in my opinion it needs to stop," said Aaron Paquette, a renowned local Indigenous artist, writer and Ward 4 candidate for city council. "It does no good for any of us when some of us are targeted as being guilty just for existing."

On Tuesday, a CBC News investigation found Edmonton police stopped and documented people of colour who were not suspected of a crime at much higher rates than white people in 2016. The data showed a similar pattern between 2012 and 2015.

Carding critics say the figures are evidence of racial profiling by police, something the Edmonton Police Service denies.

Ward 9 city council candidate and former peace officer Payman Parseyan agrees with the police, arguing they "are not with hateful intent profiling anyone."
Edmonton Ward 9 candidate Payman Parseyan speaks out in favour of police street checks. 1:14

"They profile simply so they can describe someone," said Parseyan, who is also a Realtor and energy consultant. "Officers don't just randomly walk up to people and say, 'Hey I need some information from you.' There's something that's instigated, there's a red flag."

He added that "a ban on carding would restrict police officers to be able to safely conduct their duties."

'You fit a description'

Paquette doesn't know exactly how many times he's been carded by Edmonton police.

"I've never counted it up. Dozens?" said Paquette. "Oftentimes I would ask, 'So what's going on?' and they would reply, 'Well you fit a description of someone we're looking for.' And I was like 'Oh, OK. So what's that description, long hair? Darker skin?' "
Edmonton Ward 4 candidate Aaron Paquette speaks out against police street checks 1:19

Paquette said he was last pulled over in Edmonton on a snowy, icy day 15 years ago, slowly driving his minivan with his two infant twins in the back seat. They ran his ID and let him go.

"But I was thinking, if this had gone sideways, if something had happened and I've got my small children in the back of the minivan, what would happen to them?" Paquette told CBC News.

"And you know, that was the moment that I realized this is not right and we can do better.

"Police work hard to make us feel safe, to protect our homes and our families," said Paquette. "But we can provide a safer experience for all Edmontonians and we should."

But Parseyan believes if someone matches the description of a suspect then "it's our duty to ask ... to keep communities safe," he said in a tweet on Thursday.

Parseyan recalls being street checked twice. He was also pulled over near Sherwood Park in a dramatic encounter in June 2013, when he was surprised to see his hood suddenly light up.

"It was a chopper spotlight on my car. [EPS helicopter] Air One was over my car," said Parseyan. "I was asked to exit the vehicle with guns drawn at me."

Police explained his vehicle matched an armed robbery suspect that had fled the scene.

"I was happy to answer any questions that they had because I knew I was innocent," said Parseyan.

"If someone's done something wrong, then for sure they wouldn't want to be carded. But if you haven't done anything wrong and a police officer asks who you are, it takes ten seconds for them to check."

Last year, EPS introduced measures to further ensure stops aren't racially motivated, such as street check audits and officer training.

The service is funded by the city but the province is currently reviewing street checks and is expected to hold community consultations soon.

Paquette said if elected councillor, he commits to informing that process and working with EPS "to provide more effective methods of outreach."

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca
@andreahuncar

About the Author

Andrea Huncar

Reporter

Andrea Huncar is based in Edmonton. She reports on human rights, immigrant and Indigenous communities, policing and radicalization. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca