OTTAWA — Police are facing mounting questions about the origin of a false bomb tip that led to the arrest of two Sikh rally organizers near Parliament Hill on Saturday, with some calling for an investigation into those who contacted law enforcement about the men.
Marco Mendicino, minister of public safety, said engaging in a hoax for any reason is against the law, but it’s additionally concerning when a fake tip feeds into systemic biases.
He said he shares the concerns of the Sikh community about the incident.
"I cannot underline enough that engaging in any kind of a hoax for the purposes of misleading police, casting aspersions on a community, feeding into stereotypes, is wrong. It’s categorically wrong," said Mendicino on Tuesday.
Decisions around investigating a potential hoax are made independently by law enforcement, he said.
Ottawa police have refused to answer questions about the men’s account of events, to provide more details about the tip or to say whether they will investigate those who made the claim, despite repeated requests from The Canadian Press.
The police service provided a one-line statement Monday saying only that the investigation into the matter is now concluded and no charges were laid.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called attention to the different treatment this tip received from law enforcement compared to the response to the massive "Freedom Convoy" protest that overtook downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks in February.
"When we had people that were engaged in holding up signs and flags that were related to extreme right-wing organizations, dangerous organizations, their presence on the Hill, there was very little reaction (from police) and communities were hurt," said Singh.
In light of the police response to the blockades, he said the way the Sikh rally organizers were treated based on a false call "clearly shows there's a problem with the way threats are being taken."
The World Sikh Organization of Canada says Canadian law enforcement should fully investigate and prosecute those involved in providing the tip that led to the wrongful arrests.
“The hoax bomb threat targeting a Sikh rally in Ottawa is deeply concerning," said Tejinder Singh Sidhu, the organization's president.
"We call on law enforcement agencies, including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, to fully investigate this incident and ensure those responsible for making the false threat are fully prosecuted and held accountable."
Brandon Champagne, spokesperson for the service, said it works closely with law enforcement across the country to ensure the safety of Canadians, but directed questions about investigations to Ottawa police, who are "leading the ongoing investigation into the incident."
Police have not confirmed an ongoing investigation is taking place.
Officials have released few details about the “potential threat” that prompted an evacuation of Parliament and closure of surrounding streets on Saturday. After several hours, police said no threat to public safety was found and the area reopened.
Manveer Singh and Parminder Singh have come forward about their arrests to defend their reputations and to raise questions about who gave their names to investigators and why, as well as to express concerns about how police handled that information.
Parminder Singh described the experience as “disrespectful” and “harassment.”
The two men are organizers of a remembrance rally for the victims of the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India. They had a permit to hold the event on Parliament Hill, but were told when they arrived it was shut down due to an ongoing threat and they moved to a nearby location.
Soon after the rally started, the men say police arrested them and told them their names were connected to a serious bomb threat on the Hill. Manveer Singh said police claimed they had “credible information” linking him to the threat.
Police searched their cars for explosives before handcuffing them and taking them to the police station, where they were made to remove their turbans and questioned by officers, the men said. Manveer Singh also had to remove other religious symbols including a bracelet called a kara and a ceremonial dagger known as a kirpan.
The men were eventually released. Parminder Singh said the police apologized and said they had arrested him based on wrong information.
Both the men said police told them that the information that connected them to the threat came from the Canada Border Services Agency.
Rebecca Purdy, spokesperson for the agency, said in a statement Monday that the agency works regularly with law enforcement to ensure border security, including intelligence and enforcement.
Robin Percival, spokesperson for the RCMP, said Tuesday that for privacy and operational reasons, it can only confirm details related to criminal investigations where charges have been laid.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press