British Columbia

New West Police Board asked to review street check, detention policies over racial profiling complaint

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner has told the New Westminster Police Board to take "further action," following a complaint of alleged racial-profiling by two New Westminster Police Department officers.

Douglas College instructor alleges police did not have a good reason to stop and question him

B.C.'s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner has issued recommendations to the New Westminster Police Board, following Jovian Radheshwar's complaint that he was racially-profiled by two officers last July. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner has told the New Westminster Police Board to take "further action," following a complaint of alleged racial-profiling by two New Westminster Police Department officers.

In a letter to New Westminster Mayor and Police Board chair Jonathon Coté, the commissioner's office recommends a "consultant, expert, or organization independent of the NWPD" be brought in to review police department policies on investigative detentions and street checks.

The correspondence comes comes four months after Douglas College instructor Jovian Radheshwar alleges he was racially profiled by the NWPD when he was stopped without adequate justification.

"I feel vindicated," said Radheshwar, 41. "I'm also feeling intimidated because it's definitely a baby step in the direction of police accountability."

Street check vs. investigative detention

Radheshwar claims he was walking to meet a friend for coffee in his home neighbourhood of downtown New Westminster last July, when two officers stopped him and asked to see identification. Radheshwar, who travels light, says he was only carrying his house keys and a smart watch capable of making tap payments.

Despite telling officers he did not have identification, the instructor claims they persisted, telling him he looked "exactly" like the suspect they were seeking. He says they asked if his name was "Abdul." 

Radheshwar eventually extricated himself from the situation by simply walking away and police let him go, but he says he believes he was racially profiled and subject to a street check —  the controversial police practice defined as stopping a person outside of an investigation to obtain and record their information. 

In his report to the OPCC, Radheshwar alleges he spoke with NWPD Staff Sgt. Eamonn Ward who told him officers hadn't seen a photo of the suspect and had only been given a written description, which stated the suspect was six feet tall, Middle Eastern, with a medium complexion and thick black hair.

"I was originally assumed to be 'Abdul' because of appearance," said Rahedeshwar, who describes himself as South Asian American. "I'm not Middle Eastern, but that doesn't matter... [Middle Easterners] shouldn't be treated this way either."

NWPD declined to comment, deferring instead to the OPCC.

"[The police board] will decide how to respond," said OPCC Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Andrea Spindler. "The recommendations are not necessarily binding."

The independent civilian oversight agency does, however, include responses to its recommendations in its public reports.

New Westminster’s Police Board chair and Mayor Jonathan Coté dismissed Radheshwar's complaint on the basis that he was subject to an "investigative detention" instead of a "street check." (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Coté, meanwhile, has refuted Radheshwar's allegations, writing that the NWPD Professional Standards Unit had reviewed the matter and determined his "interactions [with] the NWPD members did not constitute a "street check" under our policy, but rather an investigative detention, based on an honest but mistaken belief that you were a person arrestable for criminal offences."

CBC requested an interview with Coté. The mayor's office did not respond to the request before deadline.

Call for Coté to resign

Radheshwar argues that if the officers were actually conducting an investigative detention, they nevertheless violated his charter rights by failing to inform him why he was being stopped.

"I would still feel that it was unfair, but at least I would know that they were respectful enough to properly follow procedure," said Radheshwar.

In a 2004 ruling, R. v. Mann, the Supreme Court of Canada wrote that investigative detentions were subject to charter provisions, including 10(a) which states "[e]veryone has the right on arrest or detention (a) to be informed of the reasons therefor."

Radheshwar meanwhile, thinks Coté should resign.

He has filed B.C. Human Rights Tribunal complaints against the mayor and one NWPD officer.