Sikhs resent police action against two organizers for bomb threat to their own rally
Strong resentment prevails among members of Sikh community following an action by Ottawa police in taking custody two members of the community suspecting them to be behind a bomb threat.
While releasing the arrested persons a couple of hours later, the police apologised to them saying that they have been wrongly arrested.
Manveer Singh and Parminder Singh, both of Montreal, said that they were still in shock after being wrongfully arrested in connection with a bomb threat, an experience one of the men described as “disrespectful” and “harassment.”
Officials have released few details about the “potential threat” that prompted an evacuation of Parliament and closure of surrounding streets for several hours on Saturday. Police only said later in the day their investigation had concluded and no threat to public safety was found, media reports said.
Reacting to the police action, the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) called upon the Canadian law enforcement agencies to fully investigate and prosecute those responsible for targeting a Sikh rally in Ottawa with a false bomb threat.
In a statement issued on Saturday, Tejinder Singh Sidhu, President, WSO, said that based on a false tip, police cordoned off and surrounded the area around Parliament Hill in Ottawa and detained two Sikh organizers of a rally commemorating the 1984 Indian army attack on the Sri Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) complex in Amritsar, Punjab.
According to law enforcement, the detailed tip included the names of the Sikh organizers, photographs and license plate numbers.
After investigations turned up no actual threat or explosives, the two detained Sikhs were released without charges.
This is not the first time the Canadian Sikh community has been targeted by false bomb threats. Such threats targeting the Sikh community were frequently made since 1980s, he said.
“The hoax bomb threat targeting a Sikh rally in Ottawa is deeply concerning. This was clearly an attempt to obstruct the commemoration of the 1984 Indian attack on Sri Darbar Sahib, he said.
“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, ”added Sidhu.
Manveer Singh and Parminder Singh while talking to media after their release said that they were speaking out about the arrests in order to defend their reputations. Besides, they were also raising questions about who gave their names to investigators and why, as well as how police handled that information.
“It doesn’t make sense because I know I am not involved in anything. I’m proud as a Canadian Sikh. I love this country, I will do everything to protect this country,” said Parminder Singh.
“Why am I arrested? Because I’m wearing a turban and my skin is not white? What’s going on?”
Both Manveer Singh and Parminder Singh belong to the group of organizers of a remembrance rally for the victims of the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India. The group had received a permit to gather on the Hill, but when they arrived, they were told they were not allowed to be there because of an ongoing threat in the area.
They relocated to the lawn in front of the Supreme Court of Canada nearby to hold their event.
Harpreet Hansra, another rally organizer, said an officer sought to speak with him and asked him to identify Manveer Singh, who was designated as one of the organizers for the event.
A few minutes after the rally got underway, Manveer Singh said police arrested him and told him they had “credible information” that he was connected to a serious bomb threat on the Hill.
“They believed that I’m the one who’s gonna do that. I was shocked. I am gathering my community here to bomb them?” he said, adding that police searched him, handcuffed him and brought him to the police station for questioning.
He said police asked to frisk his turban while searching him outside the Supreme Court.
“If I don’t obey their instructions they could have done anything to me, because the threat was very big, it was a security threat to the national Parliament.”
Parminder Singh said he was arrested shortly afterwards by Ottawa police, who told him that his name was connected to an alleged bomb threat of Parliament.
Ottawa police did not answer questions about the men’s account of events, saying only that the investigation into the matter was now concluded and no charges were laid.
The two organizers said that police also searched their cars for explosives.
Hansra went to the police station afterward with two other organizers, he said.
When in police custody, both men said officers had them take off their turbans. Manveer Singh said he was also made to remove other religious symbols including a bracelet called a kara and a ceremonial sword known as a kirpan.
“They wanted me to untie my turban because they have to search very closely. Because I believe that I was the terrorist at that time in their eyes,” he said.
After being in custody for a short while, Parminder Singh said police released him and apologized, adding they arrested him based on wrong information.
“We spoke to the officers that were there and they were very clear. They apologized profusely and said, ‘Sorry that this happened, and we know you guys have nothing to do with it,”’ he said.
Both the men who were arrested said police told them that the information that connected them to the threat came from the Canada Border Services Agency.
“They said they have no further knowledge about who or what contacted CBSA, but the information was so detailed that it warranted them to take immediate action at Parliament,” Hansra said.
Rebecca Purdy, spokesperson for Canada Border Services Agency, said in a statement yesterday that the agency works regularly with law enforcement to ensure border security, including intelligence and enforcement.
The RCMP said that it could only confirm details related to criminal investigations where charges have been laid.
Ottawa police said in a statement Saturday that they received information about a potential threat near the parliamentary precinct, prompting them to close some surrounding streets to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
The Parliamentary Protective Service also ordered an evacuation of Parliament Hill, issuing an alert to all members of Parliament and staff and noting all buildings in the precinct were to be under shelter-in-place orders until further notice.