Two men claim the RCMP unjustly targeted them for public sex earlier this year at Deschênes Rapids and allege they are victims of homophobia and police profiling.
Hugh Goldring, a queer 27-year-old, and Kurtis Benedetti, a straight 25-year-old political activist, say they were parked at the rapids on the afternoon of March 13 discussing Benedetti’s detainment by Montreal police at a student protest the previous day. Having just arrived back in Ottawa from Montreal, Benedetti had a mattress in the back of his SUV.
When an RCMP car pulled up, Benedetti got nervous as, being an activist, he says he is frequently targeted by police.
According to the RCMP’s general report of the incident obtained by Xtra, RCMP Constable W Neil ran the plate of Benedetti’s vehicle and noticed the SUV was “straddling” multiple parking spaces.
Neil writes that the individual was “moving rhythmically towards and away from the other individual” and it was apparent “they were having sexual relations in the vehicle.”
When Goldring exited the vehicle, he appeared flustered and out of breath, the report alleges.
“The male [Benedetti] took a tone of indignation and was very confrontational with police, refusing to provide identification,” the report continues. “The male said ‘am I under arrest?’ Cst Neil advised both males that they were being investigated for a National Capital Commission (NCC) offence and if he did not identify himself he would be arrested for obstruction. ‘Am I being detained?’ Cst Neil replied ‘yes, get your identification.’”
He then gave both men tickets for “behaving in an offensive manner” and banned them from NCC property along the John A Macdonald Parkway for six months.
He also advised another officer to enter both men's names into the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database and gave Benedetti a parking ticket.
Both Goldring and Benedetti maintain they were not having sex. Aside from the fact that Benedetti identifies as straight, Goldring says, they are “like brothers.”
“That’s not physically possible inside the context of the SUV. I’m six-foot-one,” Goldring adds. “It’s just a preposterous position to be having sex in. The officer also claims to have seen us through his car window, through Kurtis’s windshield and through Kurtis’s seats. So that’s some special cop X-ray vision going on there.”
Benedetti says he has several straight friends police caught having sex in cars who were simply let go. The RCMP’s decision to prosecute the two friends is homophobic, he says.
Benedetti also believes the RCMP targeted him for his activities as a political activist.
The pair appeared at the Constellation Crescent provincial offences court June 11 to fight the tickets. The parking ticket was dismissed, but both were ultimately found guilty of having public sex.
“I felt that they listened to mostly the cop, and they didn’t listen to a single word I said,” Benedetti says. “They cut me off a lot.”
Goldring chose to cross-examine Neil himself and says he initially gave the RCMP officer the benefit of the doubt.
“I just thought they misinterpreted what they saw, and they were prepared to say, based on the balance of probabilities, this is what happened, but they lied in a really obvious way,” Goldring alleges. “I was not prepared for the lie. They have a quota.”
One question infuriated Goldring while being questioned by the prosecutor.
“He asked me, ‘Have you ever had sex with a man before?’ Which I really don’t see what that has to do with anything, and I guarantee that had I been a straight person that question wouldn’t have been asked of me: ‘Have you ever had sex with a woman?’” Goldring says.
“I lost because the police officer said I was on my knees and I said I was on my back. The justice of the peace told me my testimony was not credible. Then he gave me a summary lecture about what a crime it was against public decency.”
Goldring opted to pay the $125 fine.
“It’s less about the fine and more about the ability of the state to render a legal judgment with very little evidence,” Goldring says.
Benedetti says he has yet to pay the fine and will appeal the court’s ruling.
RCMP Constable Wayne Russett, who sits on Ottawa Police Service’s GLBT liaison committee, says the file is “ongoing” and therefore he cannot comment on the incident.
“The issue at hand is before the courts. It’s not concluded, so we can’t yet release anything or discuss it,” Russett says.
Committee co-chair Denis Schryburt and community vice-chair Gary Leger say they are investigating the incident.
Micheal Vonn, policy director of the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), says charges for public sex are extremely rare and are open to discriminatory enforcement.
But it is the fact that Neil was able to ascertain information about Benedetti by running his licence plate and that both men were entered into the CPIC database that Vonn sees as the major injustice.
“This boils down to one of those cases where because the police are recording and sharing information that does not relate specifically to the kinds of criminal records that we’re all familiar with — charge approval, what happens in court proceedings — [they record] what happens willy-nilly,” Vonn says. “Detentions, encounters, surmises, concerns, what have you. Essentially, they are creating a database of who is a suspicious individual.”
In the past, the harm stemming from a misunderstanding with police would be limited to that encounter, Vonn says. But now the existence of databases such as CPIC's create prejudice against anyone who has had any, even a mild, encounter with the police.
“If this person had a tense encounter with the police, was detained — and in this case it’s not at all clear that they were detained lawfully — that information is now prejudicing him in all of his subsequent encounters with the police. We have to ask if that is correct. If that is the kind of system that we are going to allow or if we’re going to put constraints on, one, what can go into those police databases in the first place, and two, what can ordinary officers have access to if it does get into the database on a regular, casual look-up-your-licence-plate kind of reason.”
The BCCLA frequently assists citizens who are puzzled by what police record about them in their databases, Vonn says, calling the information in police databases “absolute horror shows.”
“People are being harmed by the misinformation, the rumour, the surmise, the guesses. The groundless suspicions the police officers have are getting logged into these systems and are very difficult to get out.”