Ottawa police pledge full review after Sikh rally organizers arrested due to false tip
Ottawa police will meet with local Sikh leaders this week after a false bomb tip led to the arrest of two Sikh rally organizers near Parliament Hill on Saturday, the city’s interim police chief says.
Steve Bell also pledged that Ottawa police would “fully review the incident” once an RCMP investigation into the matter is complete.
The planned meeting comes as police face mounting questions about the arrests, with some calling for an investigation into those who alerted law enforcement about the men.
“We are very aware of the impact of this investigation on the city and the individuals who were arrested,” interim chief Steve Bell said in letter to the Ottawa Police Services Board.
“We have reached out to the leadership of Ottawa’s Sikh community and we will be meeting with them later this week to take their feedback and discuss the Ottawa Police response and operational processes under these circumstances,” he said.
“Our relationship with the Sikh community is important to us.”
The “potential threat” prompted an evacuation of Parliament and nearby street closures. After several hours, police said no threat to public safety was found and the area reopened.
Manveer Singh and Parminder Singh have both 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 how police handled the situation.
The men had a permit to hold a remembrance rally on Parliament Hill for victims of the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India. Upon arrival, they were told 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 said they were eventually released, with police apologizing and explaining that the pair were the victims of a "terrorism hoax."
Police received ‘detailed and specific threat’
Bell’s note to the police services board is the force’s first explanation of what happened on Saturday beyond one-line statements issued earlier this week.
He said Ottawa police are lmited in what they can say because of the RCMP investigation. But he said police received a “detailed and specific threat” just after 11 a.m. Saturday about the potential use of explosives in the area of Parliament Hill.
“The information was provided to Ottawa police by a federal agency,” Bell said.
Both men said police told them that the information that connected them to the threat came from the Canada Border Services Agency.
Bell said Ottawa police coordinated with the RCMP and Parliamntary Protective Service. By noon, officers began securing the area near the Hill, closing several streets. Any decision to evacuate the Hill was up to the PPS, Bell said.
“Using information provided, Ottawa police located two individuals of interest to the investigation at 2:08 p.m. and 2:41 p.m. They were arrested by officers, advised of their rights and transported to 474 Elgin St. to be interviewed by investigators,” Bell said.
Police also found two vehicles of interest and searched them. No explsoives were found. At 3:36 p.m., the police containment of the area was lifted.
“The initial investigation revealed there was no evidence to support further detention or charges at that time,” Bell said. “By 4:10 p.m. both individuals were released. Investigators provided an explanation about the information received and why they were arrested."
Bell said both men were offered rides back to their vehicles, but a friend was waiting in the lobby and drove them back.
“Our officers acted on the information received to ensure public safety,” Bell said. “The officers took multiple actions in good faith and worked as quickly and effectively as possible to investigate the potential threat.”
Bell said in their meeting with Sikh leaders this week, police intend to explain their response “and alleviate any doubts with respect to community support.”
“When the RCMP investigation is complete, we will fully review the incident and the feedback from the community to look at how we can improve our responses to similar incidents.
Harpreet Hansra, an organizer of the rally who spoke on behalf of the men who were arrested, said they would like an investigation into where the tip came from, why police acted so quickly on it and then so swiftly deemed it to be a hoax.
The World Sikh Organization of Canada said Canadian law enforcement should investigate and prosecute those involved in providing the tip that led to the wrongful arrests.
- with files from The Canadian Press