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Identity Checks? Here?

Last Thursday, the head of the Vancouver Integrated Security Unit (VISU) for the 2010 Olympics, Assistant Commissioner Bud Mercer, and a senior member of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), Deputy Chief Steve Sweeney, appeared together on a panel hosted by the Pivot Legal Society in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). Mercer and Sweeney spent much of the two hour meeting fielding questions from a sceptical audience concerned with the impact of 2010 security preparations on their daily lives.

Mercer and Sweeney were very smooth and appeared to be sincere when they told the crowd that there would be no “social cleansing” of the DTES during the Games, nor would protesters find their activities disrupted as long as they weren’t disruptive, violent, or tried to interfere with Games events inside the security perimeters. Indeed, both officers stressed that in Canada protests are not only allowed, but “embraced” and that 2010 would be no different. “If it’s legal now, it will be legal in 2010”, Mercer assured the audience on several occasions.

This writer had a question he hoped to ask the two officers, but as time didn’t allow for it, here it is for a VO audience. “What about identity checks of citizens going about their ordinary lives?”. Perhaps both men would have suggested that no such thing could possibly occur in Vancouver. Really? If so, perhaps they could have explained to Pivot lawyer Laura Track about the foot patrols through the DTES in which VPD members, four to a team, each do four identity checks per block.

Or perhaps they could have found a way to address this writer’s personal experience of a month ago.

On February 12th, I was hosting some American visitors allied to the Olympics resistance movement who were visiting the city. That day was special as it was just one year before the opening of the 2010 Games. VANOC was planning a special concert in Vancouver and had asked Canadians from coast to coast to “make some noise” to show support for the Games. The Olympic Resistance Network with its allies had a plan to make some noise that night too: They planned a torch light parade through the downtown to demonstrate to one and all that “all was not well” in Lotusland’s cheery preparations for the 17 day Olympic circus.

My visitors and I had gone over to the Anti-Poverty Commitee’s office on Main earlier in the day to introduce them to the group. That done, we headed for my laboratory near VGH. Coming off the Cambie St. Bridge, we were tailed by a VPD car and pulled over next to the 3 Vets store on Yukon. Both officers got out of their cruiser and approached my car. I was asked for my drivers’ license and registration. The officer on my side declined to say why we had been stopped. The officer on the other side of the car knocked on the window and demanded identification papers from the Americans. The visitors had left their papers at the house where they were staying in East Vancouver. The officer, who was not wearing his ID number tag, told the Americans that it was the law in Canada that visitors had to have their papers on them at all times. He demanded that each give him their names and home addresses. Once these were obtained, both officers returned to their vehicle.

Forty minutes later, they came back to the car and handed me my papers back. Once again I asked why we had been stopped since it was pretty obvious that they were not issuing a ticket for any traffic violation. The officer who had taken my papers told me that it was “a random identity check”. A random identity check? In Canada?

We suspected at the time that asking for passenger Ids is not within the legal authority of the police (it isn’t). We suspected that identity checks, random or otherwise, were not legal in Canada in the absence of some evidence of a crime being committed (they aren’t). Was it related to Exercise Silver, the second of the pre-Olympic exercises involving the police and military? Was it a harbinger of things to come in 2010 when much of city is behind security lines?

I wish I had been able to ask my question at the forum. I’d still like to. So, Messrs. Mercer and Sweeney, here goes: What’s up with identity checks in Vancouver? I’d really like to know. I think a lot of other people would like to know as well.

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