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  • Writer's pictureDave Shellnutt

Cycling & Police Guide

We wrote (most recently) to the Toronto Police Service about misplaced targeting of cyclists on April 20, 2023. We noted that harassing cyclists in an empty park on a snowy day was an inefficient/improper use of police resources. We condemned targeting cyclists for HTA offences in a park devoid of serious collisions as a misdirected effort to protect Torontonians, especially given that data on adjacent roadways reported a staggering numbers of motor vehicle collisions resulting in serious injury. TPS has also recently targeted cyclists on the MGT and at the CNE grounds.

The priorities of the TPS are not aligned with the road safety needs of our communities (something the TPS Board has refused to examine).

TPS’ cold but telling response to our office on May 2, must be viewed as a precursor of what cyclists can expect this summer. The same heavy-handed approach we saw in 2022 at High Park and on Shaw Street.

TPS’ statement that they “will pursue violators of the HTA regardless of the type of vehicle being operated”, is an abdication of nuanced thought around data driven road safety priorities. It is reminiscent of their abandonment of road safety efforts between 2013 and 2018 that saw a spike in motor vehicle collisions.

Worse, TPS seems buttressed by self proclaimed cycling councillors who have called for police enforcement against working e-cyclists rather than thoughtful equity informed solutions to community complaints. These non-BIPOC councillors continue to ignore race-based data demonstrating deep rooted issues within TPS at the expense of BIPOC cyclist safety.

Cycling & Police: Step by Step

For the safety of our community, we are putting a warning out to cyclists and offering a guide to help navigate interactions with police (maybe even avoid them).

If the unbelievable were to happen and you are pulled over while exercising or commuting to work (trying to lower congestion and save the environment) please consider the following:

Can Police Stop Me on My Bike?...Yes

Highway Traffic Act: Police can stop you if they think you’ve violated the HTA (no bell, failure to stop, sidewalk riding, etc.)

Identify yourself but don’t provide ID: You must stop and identify yourself to police but providing a drivers license (or other ID) is not required when you are on your bike.

Simply give them your name and address, truthfully. Failing to do so could result in arrest and/or stiffer penalties. We have seen cyclists who provide their drivers license get demerit point tickets, and while flimsy at best, fighting these takes time and money.

Detained vs. Arrested: After identifying yourself ask if you are free to go.

If you are being detained for the purposes of issuing an HTA ticket, remain calm and silent. Do not debate the officer(s) or try and justify your choice of safety over an antiquated law, they don’t care.

Take your ticket and ask if you are free to go. ***If you are arrested, ask to speak to a lawyer and say nothing more until you do.

Bear Witness: Always request bystander to observe the interaction.

If you see a person being ticketed witness it. Protect each other.

Interacting with police can be incredibly intimidating for some, get off your bike and from a safe distance keep calm, observe, and support your fellow cyclist.

*** From a criminal lawyer friend: filming police from a safe distance that doesn't obstruct police activity is not an offence and could form important evidence of the interaction/dissuade the police from further aggressive acts.

Can they search me: Unless you’re under arrest, they cannot search you.

If you are arrested do not resist the search but state, you do not consent and ask to speak to a lawyer. They may not arrest you and search you anyways. Do not resist. Say you don’t consent and report it to a lawyer after you’re safely away.

Leave the scene, get safe: Once the police interaction concludes contact a loved one or friend to check in and advise them what happened. If necessary contact a lawyer.

Typical Police Targets we see:

  • Rolling stop signs or jumping red lights on the pedestrian walk signal.

  • No bell or lights (at the appropriate time)

  • Riding on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk.

  • Biking past open Streetcar doors

  • Speeding in a park apparently.

  • Anything you’ve seen, let us know!

We know that the Idaho Stop should be legalized, and cycling on the advanced pedestrian signal may be safer. But, juggling safety with rules of the road (HTA) (designed without our safety in mind) can come at a price.

The cost of paying or fighting a ticket, in terms of money and stress far outweighs buying that bell or coming by our office for a free bike light (926 College St. in Toronto, 605 James St. N Suite 200 in Hamilton and Quick Cranks in Ottawa).

It's so important to remember that these are general guidelines for dealing with police, but these interactions are unpredictable and certainly outcomes will differ based on your skin colour, gender, class, ability, age, or status.

*Thanks to Movement Defence Committee for our 2020 collaboration on the IG Cycling and Police Guide.

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