ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Peter Francis was surprised on the night of Jan. 25 when he was pulled over on Kenmount Road and issued a speeding ticket.
The St. John’s man was even more surprised months later about what he discovered on the provincial government document used by police officers to record information about alleged Highway Traffic Act violations.
Francis — who is originally from Egypt, but has lived in Canada since 1997 and in this province since 2012 — was handed the document by the Crown prosecutor on the case at traffic court at provincial court, where Francis appeared last week to contest the ticket. The document was part of the disclosure package — the police officer’s information regarding the incident — which is not made public unless it comes to court.
While skimming over the information, Francis was taken aback to see a category for “Race,” with two boxes to choose from — W and NW, meaning white and non-white.
The officer who had pulled Francis over had put an X in the NW box.
“I had to do a double-take when I saw this check box. Are you kidding me?” Francis wrote May 10 on his Facebook post shortly after leaving the courtroom.
“Those of you who know me well know that I’m 100% for accountability and personal responsibility. I’m the last person to play the victim and I’m definitely not in this case.
“I just cannot get my head around a police officer needing to fill in a check box about the driver’s race and the options are white and non-white? How is this supposed to help your case? How is this remotely relevant?”
“I’m not offended. I’m not accusing anybody of being discriminatory or racist. But I am concerned if things like that continue to be used, one day they could be used to be discriminatory.” — Peter Francis
Francis went on to say that he tried to justify it as a means by the officer of describing the driver’s physical characteristics for identity purposes. However, Francis was quick to point out that none of the other fields — height, weight, eye colour, hair colour — were filled in.
“Someone please explain this to me,” he wrote.
When contacted by The Telegram Monday, Francis said it’s troubling that race is categorized by those two selections. While he’s not claiming he was victimized, he said the government should reassess and reconsider using such documents because some might find it inappropriate.
“I’m concerned because I grew up in a country where you have to have your religion on your national identification and I know that that was used for discriminatory purposes,” the 34-year-old said.
“I’m not offended. I’m not accusing anybody of being discriminatory or racist. But I am concerned if things like that continue to be used, one day they could be used to be discriminatory.”
Francis — who didn’t want to be identified in a photograph — said he’s more interested in knowing from the government why officers have to use such information.
“Maybe there’s a practical, logical reason,” he said, “but I honestly can’t think of one.”
At first, it was difficult for The Telegram to find out who was actually responsible for producing the form for police use.
When The Telegram contacted the RNC, calls were directed to the Justice Department.
The Justice Department then redirected The Telegram back to the RNC, which it determined had created the form.
According to RNC media relations officer Const. James Cadigan, the use of W or NW as an identifier was flagged on the last review of the summary offence tickets in 2013 as being “an improper way to identify a subject, and it should have been removed.”
“It was an oversight that it remained on the back of the ticket,” added Cadigan, who said it’s difficult to know how long before 2013 the form had been used.
He noted that the form does not appear on the summons, court copy or the ticket processing copy of the ticket. It appears on the police copy of the ticket and forms part of the police officer’s notes, “for the purpose of assisting the officer recall the identity of the subject.”
He went on to say, “Now that you have brought this to our attention, we can address this again and have it removed.”
Having heard the news from The Telegram, Francis was relieved and grateful.
“I’m glad that the whole incident resulted in a positive change,” he said.
“I’m thankful to live in this great country where the average citizen can voice their concern with something like this and actually see it corrected. I don’t take it for granted.
“Very few people around the world can actually contest a charge brought against them by police. It’s a great privilege.”
As it turned out, the officer involved in Francis’s speeding ticket case did not show up in court, and Francis was successful in contesting the ticket.