Suspicious Behaviour, Photographer on Bicycle

FTLComm - Tisdale - Tuesday, April 23, 2002
To tell a story as a reporter, about something happening to someone, or some event taking place, is usually fairly straight-forward. You get the facts, establish what is significant and try to tell what happened in an understandable way. But what if you, the reporter, become the subject of the story, your role is to tell the news not make it, so this is a difficult task, to tell you what happened last night.

The rain had quit, I was not watching any hockey and really needed a little exercise. It was around 9:30, there was little wind and it seemed like a good idea to take the ten speed down to the post office and pick up the mail. I have a rule, daylight or dark, always carry the camera just is case you see something that would make a story or make a good picture.

It was surprisingly warm and the wind was a little stronger than I had expected but was from the East which would mean I would have it behind me coming home. This was the first shower of the year, a real April shower, the streets were shining in the street lights but when I rounded the bakery corner I was astonished to see just how attractive main street looked with the glow from the lights and the wet street.

I was in the parking lane in front of the bakery and came to a stop standing over my bicycle waited for a few cars to pass so that I could get the picture at the bottom of the page.

Sometimes as you click the shutter you just know, "good shot." The scene South (at bottom of page) was nice but I though I should get a second look North even though there were lots of cars, most would be stopped at the four way and I should get a good exposure (top of page). I really did not pay any attention to the traffic, after all it was just getting in the way of the shine and reflection on the street.

But as I looked South one of the vehicles was a police car and it abruptly made a "U" turn at the bank of Montreal. It crossed my mind at the moment that someone had been watching to many television cop shows. This is Tisdale, almost no one on the street, only a few cars and me armed with a camera and standing over a bicycle in the parking lane.

The police car sped North toward me then stopped abruptly. I thought surely there must be some emergency and snapped a picture. A "before" picture of what ever was the subject of the policeman's attention.

From the stopped car he asked me something, but of course I could not hear. I am hearing impaired, have been for some years, what is most annoying about being hearing impaired is that out of the voice range, I have normal hearing, but with the sound of traffic and a running car, I can not make out a voice unless it is very loud or very close. In the darkness my skill at lip reading was completely useless.

When I did not respond as he seemed to want, as I indicated to him that I could not make out what he was saying. He wheeled the car into the four way stop intersection doing another "U" turn and pulled up beside me.

The passenger side window was partly rolled down and in the passenger seat was a very attractive young woman, glasse,s dark hair, wearing make-up and in civilian clothes. Once again the policeman leaning across the seat asked his question again. The question was, "Are you from here."

Now some things are hard to digest, I had him repeat the question twice just to make sure I was hearing what he said. It was nearly ten at night, I was on a bicycle, from my tubby appearance I doubt very much if I look like a long distance cyclist going cross country with my Epson camera. Once I had established the absurdity of the question I said: "Yes much longer than you have."

Clearly I remembered this guy, the first week he came to town I was in the Co-op store and seen him march up to the hardware counter on a summer day wearing gloves and his bullet proof vest. Then later that winter I mentioned his very authoritative behaviour at a Rambler
hockey game.

I gave him my card which he read and handed back and I told him to keep it so he could see his "U" turn tomorrow. He muttered words to the effect that he had not seen me taking pictures before and I told him usually I would do so from a car.

It struck me at that moment that had I been in a car and not standing on a bicycle I would not have witnessed two "U" turns by a police car on main street on one night and been questioned about what I was doing. Afterward I was definitely shaken by the incident.

I was going about my business, in full view of the world, peacefully trying to capture a picture of rain on wet pavement and a policeman considered that suspicious behaviour and wanted to know if I was from Tisdale.

The fear I had at the moment was that I was virtually defenseless, standing on a bicycle with an old digital camera in hand and for the life of me, I can not possibly think of what sort of threat I might pose to anyone, especially a two hundred fifteen pound mid twenties policeman with a car, shot gun, bullet proof vest and semiautomatic hand gun.

The principles involved in this incident are far more reaching. Does this mean that I do not have the right to take pictures of wet pavement? Is there a permit needed in Tisdale to ride a bicycle with a concealed loaded camera? Will I think twice about going out of my house after dark to capture a scene, or prepare something for an Ensign story? Damn right!

Not in the wildest of imaginations could my behaviour, a fifty-seven year old fat guy on a bicycle with a camera, be viewed as suspicious. Even more absurd what would have happened if I had not been from Tisdale, what if by some strange quirk of fate I had been a long distance overweight marathon cyclist passing through Tisdale at 9:45 on a Monday night? Are their laws or regulations that limit bicycle travel? Is there laws or regulations that forbid people from Nipawin or Melfort from taking a picture from a bicycle on the side of the street of water on pavement?

What is really serious is that that policeman's action frightened me. I will indeed be less likely to venture out onto the street with out a car and somehow that seems wrong.
I know deep down that he could have explained to a hearing into my shooting that he saw me raise a weapon to fire and he instinctively pulled his side arm and fired two rounds into my body's mass in self defense The hearing would place a letter of reprimand in his permanent file and he would be transferred. Oh, I realise that this is extreme, but those thoughts went through my head when accosted by a person wearing a bullet proof vest and carrying a weapon he was not trained to fire, but "conditioned" to fire without thinking.
I am apologizing for having editorialised this incident and many of you might think I should just been glad that this was all that happened to me. But I live here because of choice, I perceive this to be a free and open society, a civilised town where I can go out at night on a bicycle and take pictures of wet streets. That's why I live here not in some place where you have to keep your doors locked and be constantly on guard for fear of being mugged or your property damaged or stolen. I live here in peace and now discover that the only danger I have is the threat of "so-called" peace officers.

Timothy W. Shire