A complaint about a Hamilton police officer's online activity allegedly supporting anti-Muslim rhetoric has spurred an investigation by Ontario's police regulator.
The complaint laid by a local man also cites what he says was "bigoted treatment" during a traffic stop.
The allegations raise questions about the police service's social media policy, and just what sort of conduct it expects from its officers online and on the street.
In his complaint to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), Julian Mallah says that he is "shocked and deeply disturbed that while depicting himself in uniform, the constable was publicly expressing harsh contempt for the entire Canadian Muslim population, with extreme prejudice."
The head of the Hamilton police union, however, says that Mallah's accusations are "unfair and inaccurate," and adds that the officer will not comment while the investigation is ongoing.
The complaint originates from an incident that happened when Mallah, 25, was driving on Highway 6 on November 20, 2015.
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According to the complaint, he was stopped for speeding, and he told CBC News he was pulled over for doing 110 km/h in an 80 km/h zone.
The Hamilton police officer who pulled him over — who Mallah has identified as Const. Brad Lawrie — said he smelled pot in the car and needed to search it. Mallah says he complied, not wanting to be difficult.
In a letter to Mallah confirming the investigation, the OIPRD also confirmed the identity of the officer being complained about as Lawrie.
'I feel like he has a clear bias … and it spilled over into his personal conflict. When you see the uniform alongside this kind of rhetoric, it's scary.'
- Julian Mallah
The officer found a gram of marijuana, Mallah says — but also found his Lebanese ID card, which has his picture and writing in Arabic.
"After finding a Lebanese document in my vehicle, his word for word reaction was (in a mocking tone), 'Well, what do we have here?'" Mallah's complaint reads. "He refused to discuss the nature and source of the possessed marijuana. Instead, he only questioned me on my ethnicity and why I possessed an identification card with Arabic script."
He says the card is a standard government-issued identification for citizens of Lebanon. Mallah was born in Canada and has dual citizenship, but his father is from Lebanon. He had just gotten back from a visit with family.
"He scoffed, and began further mocking me demanding to know why I was 'really' there," the complaint reads.
"I could not believe a civil servant was berating me for being a Canadian-born citizen of Lebanese heritage."
He later says in the complaint: "It was at this point I stated, 'I am not even a Muslim, I am a Christian, not that it should matter.' This is without a doubt the first time in my life, that I felt I had to clarify my religion to ensure my safety."
Arrested for possession of 1 gram of pot
Mallah was ticketed for speeding.
In the complaint, Mallah says Lawrie "laid a charge for possession of a small quantity of marijuana."
That possession charge was subsequently withdrawn — Mallah maintains he has no criminal record, and has never been in trouble with the law otherwise.
The experience kept gnawing at him, Mallah says, and so he tracked down Lawrie on Facebook and Twitter. What he found only fanned his outrage further.
Screen captures by Mallah of Lawrie's profile show he liked contentious pages like "Boycott Halal," as well as "The North American Defense League," which describes itself as "dedicated to the removal of Islam from the western hemisphere."
The screen grabs also show Lawrie's likes included "Never Again Canada," a page Macleans magazine called a "stridently pro-Zionist website that has become a hotbed of anti-Trudeau and anti-Muslim rhetoric."
Screenshots from a Twitter page that Mallah alleges is Lawrie's include retweets of an image that says "Radical Islam, either we kill them or they kill us. So you have two choices: get ready to fight or prepare to die."
Mallah says that Lawrie deleted his social media accounts back in December, after he contacted him about his behaviour. CBC Hamilton has not been able to independently view his posts outside of screenshots provided by Mallah, which he also provided to the OIPRD for the investigation.
Police won't answer questions about social media policy
Mallah told CBC News that he made an official complaint to the OIPRD in May, and that two investigators from the office interviewed him in June.
Hamilton Police Association President Clint Twolan told CBC News that the association has instructed Lawrie not to speak with anyone about the incident, as Mallah has filed a formal complaint.
"Mr. Mallah is well aware that Officer Lawrie is not able to publicly defend himself so I can only assume that he has contacted you to provide an unfair and inaccurate account," Twolan said in an email. "One which cannot be rebutted at this time."
Spokesperson Rosemary Parker told CBC News that the OIPRD can't publicly comment about any investigation, but a check of the organization's website shows Mallah's complaint is currently under investigation.
Hamilton police Staff Sgt. Maggie Schoen said police would not comment on any ongoing OIPRD investigation to "ensure the integrity of that process."
Shoen also would not answer any questions about the service's social media policy for officers, and said CBC News would have to fill out a Freedom of Information request to access that information.
Mallah says this experience has made him nervous around police, and was the first time he ever truly felt like an outsider.
"I feel like he has a clear bias … and it spilled over into his personal conflict," he said. "When you see the uniform alongside this kind of rhetoric, it's scary.
"The uniform holds a lot of power."