An 18-year-old Calgary man is speaking out after he says police detained him at gunpoint in Delta, B.C., in a case of mistaken identity.
It happened Thursday as Noel Kene and three friends, all of whom are Black and between the ages of 18 and 20, were in the final days of a camping trip to B.C.
Kene said the group were driving through the city when a police cruiser pulled in front of them and forced them to stop.
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“Officers get out of the car with their guns out and then two other police cars come by and then they have their guns as well,” he said.
“And then they all just surround the car. And then they tell us to put our hands up.”
The group was removed from their SUV one at a time and handcuffed, he said.
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Kene said police had received a report of someone waving a gun out the window of a white SUV with Alberta licence plates. The group was in a silver SUV with Alberta plates.
He and his friends were left handcuffed in the back of squad cars in sweltering heat for about an hour and a half as police searched their vehicles, he said.
“In that situation, you never know what’s going to happen to you — you never know if someone actually tried to set you up in this situation,” he said.
“But it’s like you never know if you are fully innocent at that point in time or if there’s more variables to the situation that you don’t know about because you’re in a police car … that uncertainty is genuinely terrifying.”
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A police search of the vehicle turned up an axe and knife the group had been using while camping, but nothing else.
Police eventually let the group go with what Kene described as a “condescending” apology.
“Obviously, I don’t want to just draw strings and make assumptions and stuff, but I don’t know — I feel like if I wasn’t Black, if all of us, all three weren’t Black … we would have got treated like a little bit better with less contempt,” he said.
“It didn’t seem like they were trying to assure us that if we were innocent, we’d be OK.”
In a statement, a Delta police spokesperson confirmed officers had stopped an SUV following a firearm report.
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Sgt. James Sandberg said it happened in an area with only one way in and out, and that the vehicle had a “similar description” to the one they were looking for.
“Due to the nature of the complaint, our officers conducted a high-risk vehicle stop consistent with their training and arrested the four occupants of the SUV,” he said.
“Following the stop, our officers took the time to explain their actions to the parties involved in the car.”
Sandberg added that when police get a report of a dangerous situation, they must respond as if it is real.
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“Sometimes that requires lights and sirens, and multiple police cars,” he said. “However, not infrequently, once the investigation begins, police sometimes find that what was called in doesn’t necessarily match the facts and circumstances that are determined to be present.”
Kene said he was grateful two women who were driving by stopped, stayed as witnesses and filmed the search as it unfolded.
One of those women, Stephanie Chan, told Global News she understood police were doing their job, but that officers are also humans who can react emotionally or make mistakes.
She said she wanted to make it obvious that the police stop was being observed.
“We are here, we are present, we are watching, please be kind — if there is room to be kind. I know that’s maybe not part of their protocol,” she said.
“But as parents you just think — if there’s young people in there, if that’s my kid — like, if they’re innocent, sure you’re doing your protocol but it’s a traumatizing experience, especially if you’re a person of colour, especially if you’re Black.”
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It comes amid a growing debate about systemic racism in policing in British Columbia and Canada, and on the heels of two other incidents where law-abiding people of colour were wrongly handcuffed by police.
In one case, an Indigenous grandfather and his 12-year-old granddaughter were handcuffed while trying to open a bank account in Vancouver; in the other, a retired Black B.C. Supreme Court judge was handcuffed during a walk at the beach.
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“I don’t think that if these were non-racialized people that they would be held at gunpoint,” anti-racism activist Markiel Simpson said of Kene’s detention.
“What we’re seeing is the trauma that’s happening to people being discounted, and so they apologize and expect people to go on with their lives like nothing’s changed when you could have just been fatally injured … because of the colour of your skin.”
Simpson said the incident highlights the ongoing criminalization of people of colour, and called for an overhaul of police training and stronger accountability for police.
The incident left Kene and his friends shaken, and the group opted to go home to Calgary early.
They are also considering a formal complaint.
“They didn’t seem to care about how what they were doing would affect us because we’re just some 19, 18, 20-year-olds,” Kene said.
“We need to start holding the police more accountable to what they’re doing and making sure they know that they’re being watched when they do stuff like that — because when they feel like they’re not getting watched, then that’s when the people under arrest, they’ll be seen more as criminals than citizens.”
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