North Shore man wins civil suit
against West Vancouver police

Jane Seyd, North Shore News/Vancouver Sun, Sept. 22, 2009

Don Sipes, until recently a resident of West Vancouver, claims to have been stopped by the WVPD
about 30 times for no reason — except possibly the way he looks. A small claims court judge
has ruled police arrested him in 2006 “without any grounds at all.”
Photo: Mike Wakefield, North Shore News.

NORTH VANCOUVER — A North Shore man who says he was repeatedly harassed by West Vancouver police because of the way he looks has won a lawsuit against the police department for wrongful arrest.

Don Sipes, 47, launched the civil action against West Vancouver in small claims court, suing the municipality for $24,000 in damages after he said he was illegally arrested, detained and handcuffed by a West Vancouver police officer as he was walking down the street.

This week, provincial court judge Carol Baird Ellan agreed Sipes should not have been stopped, saying the officer involved in the incident had no reason to arrest Sipes as he walked to a bus stop on Marine Drive in January 2006.

Don Sipes, until recently a resident of West Vancouver, claims to have been stopped by the WVPD about 30 times for no reason.

In her decision, the judge criticized the police, saying Sipes was arrested “without any grounds at all.”

The judge added it seemed likely the officer who actually arrested Sipes had been directed by a fellow officer who had a long history of stopping Sipes and that an investigation initially given as a reason to detain Sipes was simply a “convenient justification.”

For Sipes, the judge’s decision in his favour was an important victory he said came after years of being stopped by officers for no reason.

It also followed a police complaint that resulted in little action, he said, and a Human Rights Tribunal complaint that was put on hold pending the outcome of the court case.

Sipes described what happened to him as “downright discrimination on behalf of an out-of-control police department.”

“I know I’m not the only one,” he added. “I’ve seen others subject to the same abuse.”

Sipes, who grew up in West Vancouver and until recently lived in the municipality, said his troubles with the police department there go back a number of years.

Sipes said he’s probably been stopped by police for no reason about 30 times, sometimes as he’s been walking to a bus stop, or just a few blocks from his mother’s house in Horseshoe Bay.

“They’d want to know where I’m going, what’s in my pockets,” he said. “I’m just plain not allowed in West Vancouver.”

So when he was stopped again on Jan. 25, 2006 for more questioning, Sipes said he’d had enough. He had seen one officer — Cpl. Jag Johal, who had stopped him several times before — drive by in one direction. Soon after, Const. Jeff Palmer drove up in another police car and told him to stop for some questions. When Sipes refused, Palmer arrested and handcuffed him.

In court, Palmer told the judge he was investigating a complaint about a possible fraud artist at Park Royal Shopping Centre, described as having short spiky hair. Palmer said he stopped Sipes after being radioed by Johal that Sipes might be “a good check.”

But under cross-examination, Palmer agreed he knew Sipes — who has long curly hair — didn’t fit the description of the suspect, even before he arrested him.

The judge also questioned whether Johal and Palmer were really investigating the case at the time they stopped Sipes, saying it’s possible the officers just used that as an excuse.

She found West Vancouver liable for false detention, arrest and imprisonment of Sipes. Monetary damages are to be determined on another court date.

Sipes previously won a police complaint filed over the same incident. Police Complaint Commissioner Dirk Ryneveld determined back in 2006 that Palmer had abused his authority, for which he received a verbal reprimand. But Sipes said he still didn’t think the police were taking him seriously.

Laura Track of the Pivot Legal Society, who represented Sipes in court, said it’s very unusual for anyone to file a lawsuit against the police, let alone to win their case.

“When people are the target of police harassment, the last thing they want to do is bring more attention to themselves,” she said. “It’s not an accessible process, and it’s not a cheap process.”

Track said regardless of how much money he is awarded, “being heard and understood by the court was the most important victory” for Sipes. “What’s important to him is this doesn’t continue to happen.”

Track said Sipes’ experience is typical of what can happen under police profiling.

“It’s fishing, based on how someone looks,” she said. “(Sipes) does look a little rough around the edges. He doesn’t look wealthy. Perhaps from the police perspective he may look a little out of place in West Vancouver.”

Sipes said since he launched the lawsuit, he hasn’t been stopped by police. He added he’s also accepted an apology from the officer who arrested him.

But he said he wishes somebody within the police department had “just taken me at my word and disciplined the appropriate person” when he complained earlier.

Nobody from West Vancouver Police Department was available to comment on the case.

Don Sipes sues again, this time North Vancouver RCMP.
Power-tripping cops just don’t like this guy, but he’s taking a stand
July 25, 2012 update:
Sipes wins a well-deserved, hard-fought victory
over North Vancouver RCMP in B.C. Supreme Court
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