Pacific Centre mall photographers find sympathy on social media

The story of Mohammed Sharaz, son Salahuddin and Mohammed Kareem trended on Facebook and Twitter as many pointed out tourists often take photos of odd things in Vancouver without garnering any attention.

As news of their innocence broke, users online were outraged by what they saw as racial profiling

Mohammed Sharaz (left) says he has 'no complaints' with the public's reaction following the intense interest in what he, his friend Mohammed Kareem (centre) and his son (right) were doing photographing Pacific Centre. (Kamil Karamali/CBC)

The two men and one youth who gained unwanted attention after taking photographs and video of a downtown Vancouver mall have plenty of sympathizers online.

On Saturday, the topic trended both on Facebook and Twitter in Vancouver as users expressed outrage about what they described as the racial profiling of Mohammed Sharaz, Salahuddin Sharaz and Mohammed Kareem.

Mohammed Sharaz, one of the three men who were identified as British tourists, reacted positively to the public's concern but less so to how media outlets handled the incident.

"I've got no complaints because I've been reading comments online. Most of the people, 90 per cent, have actually understood what's happened," said Sharaz.

"The problem is when [media] published our photos naively or whatever, as soon as we saw the pictures, our faces are not blurred out. I've got a child that's 14 years-old ... it's going to cause him some trauma."

Images of the three men were released Thursday evening by an online publication following the leak of a internal police bulletin which described three "Middle-Eastern looking" men but was never meant to be made public.

'Sad moment' for Canada

Later when the three British tourists were cleared of any wrongdoing, users pointed to a double standard the men were subjected to because of their skin tone. 

"I work near Pacific Centre, and walk through there quite often," said Tee Bex, who is listed as being from Abbotsford, B.C.

"Taking photos inside of it is common, but most people wouldn't bat an eye about a story of four Brazilian or Chinese tourists taking photos."

Another user, Jenna Marion, reflected on what she found to be a "sad moment" for Canada.

"I wish I could apologize to those men for the way they were profiled and spoken about," she said.

On Friday, VPD Chief Adam Palmer defended the description of the men as standard practise for anyone police are looking for.

"We release that all the time," he said at the time. "It's as simple as that."

Some were upset that media outlets across the city, including CBC, initially posted non-blurred images of the men.

Others specifically faulted the online publication that broke the news late Thursday.

"I'm pointing directly at Vancity Buzz for stirring up controversy. How their headline went from 'three Middle Eastern men' to 'three men' once the tourists came forward," said Vancouver's Ian Bryce on his Facebook page.

"It's disgusting that these people were profiled and had to 'out' themselves to stay safe."

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Vancity Buzz editor in chief Farhan Mohamed said his team published the story because it was in the public interest and when contacted to confirm details of the leaked memo, police did not ask them not to run the story.

Jan O'Hara admitted on her Facebook page that she initially shared a link about the police search because it was "worth passing on".

After learning of their innocence, like many others, she clarified the concern may have been overstated.

Other online chatter also called for police to look into the source of the leak. 

Palmer says that would be challenging as the internal bulletin was sent out to thousands of police officers and civilian staff.


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