Ottawa police reach out to Sikh community, but not men arrested due to false tip

·5 min read

Ottawa police will meet with leaders of the city’s Sikh community later this week to get feedback on officers’ handling of a false bomb tip against two rally organizers, but police have not reached out to the men who were arrested as a result of the accusation.

Parminder Singh, who lives in Pierrefonds, Que., said on Wednesday the police plan to meet with Sikh leaders in Ottawa without contacting him is “disturbing.”

"Since I've been released from Ottawa police custody, I haven't got any phone call or email from Ottawa police. Seeing that news is really disturbing for me because I am the victim of the hoax, the bogus complaint against me and I am not even aware about this meeting," he said.

Manveer Singh also said he has not received any communication from Ottawa police since being released from custody on Saturday. A public apology would be appreciated, he said.

"We deserve some answers. They're talking to other people, we should be reached out by them first," said Manveer Singh, who also lives in Quebec, in the Montreal suburb of Vaudreuil-Dorion.

Interim police chief Steve Bell shared that the service had reached out to Ottawa’s Sikh community in a letter to the city's police services board Tuesday night.

The RCMP is conducting an ongoing investigation into the event, Bell said, noting that in light of that investigation, his force is limited in what it can share about Saturday's incident, but added it will work to give as much information as possible to "ensure transparency."

Mounties would not confirm that an investigation is underway. The RCMP said for privacy and operational reasons, it can only confirm details related to criminal investigations where charges have been laid.

When the RCMP probe finishes, Ottawa police will review the incident and community feedback to look at how it can improve its response to similar incidents, Bell said.

"That makes me feel a little better, that the police are working on that," said Parminder Singh, adding he has a right to know who made the complaint against him.

Manveer Singh also said knowing law enforcement are investigating the incident makes him feel "a little good" and a bit more relaxed.

"They're working on at least something. I don't know if it is just lip service or they're really doing something. That's the question," he said.

Parminder Singh said he would like to see the individuals responsible charged for submitting wrongful information about him and his community.

Bell provided a timeline of the incident on Saturday that prompted the evacuation of Parliament and closure of surrounding streets, raising public alarm about a major security threat in the national capital.

He said just after 11 a.m., a federal agency provided police with “a detailed and specific threat" about the potential use of explosives in the area of Parliament Hill.

“The threat was complicated by time factors related to a planned event,” he said.

Police immediately co-ordinated with RCMP and the Parliamentary Protective Service. By noon, officers began securing the area near Parliament Hill and closed multiple streets to pedestrian and vehicle traffic, while the PPS decided to evacuate people on the Hill.

Police found two “individuals of interest” at 2:08 p.m. and 2:41 p.m. and they were arrested, advised of their rights and taken to the police station to be interviewed. Two vehicles were searched and no explosives were found, Bell said.

Just after 3:30 p.m., the area was reopened to the public.

“The initial investigation revealed there was no evidence to support further detention or charges at that time,” he said.

By 4:10 p.m., both people were released. Investigators provided “an explanation about the information received and why they were arrested,” Bell said, and they were offered rides back to their vehicles, but a friend drove them back instead.

“Our officers acted on the information received to ensure public safety. The officers took multiple actions in good faith and worked as quickly and effectively as possible to investigate the potential threat.”

Parminder Singh and Manveer Singh have said that, when they were released from custody, officers apologized and explained they were victims of a “terrorism hoax.” But they were not told who targeted them with the tip.

The men are organizers of a rally held in remembrance of the victims of the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India. They had a permit to hold the event on the Hill, but when it was shut down due to the threat, they relocated to the nearby Supreme Court of Canada lawn.

They have said that when police arrested them, they told them their names were connected to the bomb threat. Manveer Singh said police claimed they had “credible information” linking him to the threat.

"What was that credible information that led police to arrest me?” he asked.

At the police station, the men said they were made to remove their turbans. Manveer Singh also had to remove a bracelet called a kara and a ceremonial dagger known as a kirpan.

Both men said they are still suffering from lingering effects of the incident. Manveer Singh said he’s still in shock and finding it hard to concentrate on his work.

"I have so many sleepless nights,” added Parminder Singh.

“I couldn't sleep all this time, thinking why and what happened to me, the way Ottawa police handled this situation totally wrongfully.”

Bell said police are aware of the effect law enforcement's response had on the individuals who were arrested.

"Our relationship with the Sikh community is important to us," he said in the letter to the police board.

“Our intent is to work to explain our response and alleviate any doubts with respect to community support, and to provide reassurance that Ottawa police is working to better understand and address the needs of our communities.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press

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