Pivot Legal Society - Equality Lifts Everyone


“Know your rights” cards, 10 years later

Since the Pivot Legal Society “Rights Cards” were first produced in July 2002 more than 45 organizations have ordered over 150,000 cards, in either English or French.

Just last week 2,000 cards were handed out by the Concordia University Legal Information to students at a demonstration. Katrina Pacey recently spoke to Paul Ryan about the origins of the card and how and why it was produced. (Note if you are considering ordering cards: the cards are usually printed in red and black, but the Concordia Legal Information Centre requested blue as the second colour.)

This is a transcribed interview originally broadcast as a podcast on rabble.ca

PR: “What is the history behind the Statement for Police rights cards?”

KP: “It was the very very early days for the organization. We didn’t have an office in those early days. We relied on borrowed space and volunteer time…

It was an idea that arose as a result of us hosting community meetings and talking to people in the neighbourhood about what their human rights issues were - what were the struggles that they were facing in the community and one of the most pressing issues for them was their [marginalized persons’] relationship to police and the fact that they were regularly jacked up and stopped and searched unlawfully and sometimes were victims of violence at the hands of police. And so we were trying to figure out what the best strategy was and how to address what was going on in the community and one of the key aspects of what we learned was that people didn’t understand what their rights were – they didn’t know what to say or what to do when the police were going to stop them… So we developed an idea to create a rights card…

The idea behind it was to create a small wallet-sized folding card. It was to have very simple language and to have very clear rights information on there that people could really memorize – that it was going to be simple and easy to understand. It developed into a two part card because what we decided to do was have one part of the card that you could tear off, so that if someone felt that couldn’t actually speak to police, they’d prefer to just remain silent - which is one of the pieces of advice on the card, they could hand this top part of the card over to the police, as a statement to that police officer that they wanted their rights to be respected, that they were asserting their right to silence and so forth.

So we developed this idea – we actually met with the police department and asked them to partner with us in those early days on it. We thought “everyone loves constitutions rights, everyone believes in them and we’re sure the police believe in them as well.” They weren’t that interested in participating or cooperating with us… so we went ahead anyway and we worked with local lawyers and drafted the content, produced the card and on the first day that the card arrived we did a press conference on the steps of the police station and I think we proceeded to hand out close to a 1,000 cards that day just by having volunteers walk around the community and hand them out to individuals who wanted them.”

PR: "What happened after you first handed them out? Did it make a difference?"

KP: “It was an interesting process – we heard a lot of different things. One thing we heard was that some people felt that they were glad to know the information but they were too scared to assert their rights. That they felt like if police were going to be hassling them, that they were terrified of police and that was going to be a difficult thing for them to do.

Other people experimented, frankly, with asserting their rights and said that they got even more hassled from the police... What was said to us, generally, was “well, the police don’t seem that interested in respecting our rights but at least we know what they are, at least know we have them.” At least they know that their rights are the same as everyone else under Canada’s constitution and that knowledge was power for them.

The sad thing is that I don’t know that has made a tangible or a concrete difference in the way the police were treating them and so Pivot had to continue on with that campaign and continue fighting for protections for people in that community and for greater police accountability."

PR: "Did it have anything to do with the Woodward’s Squat?"

KP: "The squat came afterwards, but the rights cards carried on as one of our key campaigning devices and one of our key pieces of legal education and so they were handed out everywhere and we took them everywhere and we certainly took them to the Woodsquat…

The rights cards have, interestingly, been this kind of consistent aspect of Pivot’s work throughout time. We take them wherever we go. They are loved broadly and people continue to order them. It was a strategy that has lasted as long as Pivot has lasted and continues to be timely and necessary and it’s really wonderful and remember a decade ago when those cards first hit the streets."

If you would like to order the Statement for Police rights cards please e-mail pryan [at] pivotlegal . org. The price of the cards is discounted until the end of December.