The mayor of Vancouver has apologized to two men and a teenager singled out in an internal police bulletin for taking pictures at a downtown shopping mall.
Gregor Robertson says it was a mistake that a document containing non-blurred photos of two men and one youth, described as "Middle-Eastern looking," was leaked and that media published the pictures on Thursday.
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"I wanted to make sure on behalf of the city they understand how much respect we have for them and that we understand mistakes were made," Robertson said after meeting the trio for lunch on Sunday.
Surveillance photos of Mohammed Sharaz, his son and his friend taking pictures and video with their cell phones of the entrances and exits of Pacific Centre mall on Tuesday raised suspicions with shopping-centre authorities, who relayed the information to the Vancouver Police Department.
"Vancouver must continue to be a welcoming city." Mayor meets with 3 British tourists after Pacific Centre stories pic.twitter.com/gO1atJ9Wz4— @VanMayorsOffice
The three men are visiting Vancouver from the United Kingdom so Sharaz's friend and 14-year-old son can receive specialized treatment for their visual disabilities. The two men take photos and video throughout the day so they can zoom in later to see the sights more clearly.
Police quickly cleared the men after Sharaz explained the situation, but the three were afraid they might be identified on the street and attacked by vigilantes.
The Vancouver Police Department is conducting an internal review to better understand how the bulletin was leaked when it was intended only for internal circulation among British Columbia police officers.
In the meantime, the police have offered to drive the men around during the remainder of their stay.
Robertson said what's important at this point is that visitors to Vancouver feel valued and respected.
"We're a city that takes care of people," he said. "We respect people no matter what their background, where they come from and what they believe in. That's what this city is all about."
Considering legal action
The mayor laid some of the blame on the media for publishing the identifying photographs.
"That's not appropriate. That should not have happened" he said. "There's also journalistic integrity that comes into play here."
Sharaz said he doesn't blame the police for the ordeal, describing their behaviour as "brilliant."
"What the police did, I'm perfectly fine with that. Even if they'd come and arrested us I would have been fine with that," he said.
"When it comes to national security there are some crazy people in the world."
Sharaz was also critical of the media and said he is considering legal action against Vancity Buzz, the news and culture website that was the first to publish the unblurred photos.
CBC News also published the photos online after police confirmed the alert was accurate and they were looking for the men, but later blurred out the faces after they were identified by police who determined they were completely innocent.
Sharaz commended the mayor, the police and the people of Vancouver for their response to the incident.
"On Friday, we thought we were going to have a horrible weekend. But the weekend's turned out pretty good," he said, smiling.
Vancity Buzz editor in chief Farhan Mohamed said last week that the story was published because it was in the public interest.
He later said in a statement that he welcomed the news that the men had been located and their actions deemed innocent.
Mohamed tweeted at Sharaz on Saturday saying that he would love to sit down with him.
The three fly back to the U.K. on Friday but will return to Vancouver in about three months.
Sharaz's son Salahuddin Sharaz suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease that causes severe vision impairment. He and Sharaz's friend Mohammed Kareem, 34, have been receiving treatment from Dr. Weidong Yu at the Wellspring Clinic for Holistic Medicine.