Pacific Centre photos: Mohammed Sharaz, son Salahuddin and Mohammed Kareem speak out
'These guys can't even see! And you expect them to be pulling off something big?'
The two men and one youth caught up in a police investigation and media leak gone wrong are speaking out about all the attention they unintentionally attracted after photographing parts of a downtown Vancouver mall, simply to see it better.
"These guys can't even see! And you expect them to be pulling off something big," said Mohammed Sharaz, who is in Vancouver with his son, Salahuddin Sharaz, and friend, Mohammed Kareem, both of whom suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition which eventually causes vision loss.
The two are being treated at the Wellspring Clinic for Holistic Medicine by Dr. Weidong Yu. They take photos of many things in order to have the ability to zoom in and see them better.
"Because of this terrorist issue, [people say] 'they got a beard,' that's why they think we're terrorists," said Kareem. "But not everyone is the same, which we need to say. We are not Middle-Eastern, we are Briton."
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Since the story broke, the trio hasn't left where they're staying, other than to go to the clinic, over fears they will be harassed if recognized.
On Tuesday, a police memo was leaked to the media showing pictures of the men and youth in Pacific Centre mall holding their phones up, appearing to take photographs. In the document, police described them as looking Middle-Eastern and noted they were seen taking photographs of the mall's exits and entrances. The memo said officers only wanted to speak with them.
But once the memo was leaked to the media, some outlets, including the CBC, published the trio's photographs. That led the Vancouver Police Department to hold a special news conference Friday, addressing the leaked memo and the nuances of why they were looking for the men.
When Sharaz saw the media coverage for the first time, he says he was flabbergasted.
"'Come here, we're famous,'" he said to his son and Kareem. "'Look we're on TV.' I said: 'You two were taking pictures and they think you're up to no good!' I didn't even drink my tea, I took one sip and just chucked it in the sink."
'I have to come back'
Now that all three have been cleared of any wrongdoing, they are still wary of their reputations being tarnished as their police-linked images, although now blurred, will live forever on the internet.
"I have to come back, but I probably won't feel as comfortable," said Sharaz, who also visited Vancouver with his son last August for treatment.
In addition to Salahuddin Sharaz's deteriorating eyesight, the youth was born deaf but has since had a cochlear implant. Sharaz says the treatment he receives in Vancouver is not available in the U.K.
This trip alone cost $6,000 but money is now the least of his worries.
Men behind 'suspicious' photographs at Vancouver's Pacific Centre mall speak out <a href="https://t.co/jLIjeO4mdU">https://t.co/jLIjeO4mdU</a> <a href="https://t.co/VEboNA7dP8">pic.twitter.com/VEboNA7dP8</a>—@cbcnewsbc
"The problem is when they published our pictures ... we've got a child who is 14 years old," said Sharaz, who wished their faces were blurred from the beginning.
"He's not an adult, he's 14 years old. It's going to cause him some kind of trouble. His picture is across the web now, straight away.
"I don't know how many thousands of people have shared it. So his friends are going to pick on him and say: 'you know he goes to a special school,' so he's going to have problems.
'He's going to be bullied'
"If someone see it, he's going to be bullied by that."
In spite of the ordeal, Sharaz says he doesn't blame the police for how they handled the situation.
"I think the police, the job they did was perfectly fine,' he said. "There's a lot of evil that goes on in the world and if they just ignored it and something serious was to happen ... A human life is not worth nothing, any human life is worth something."
The trio live in Manchester and have Pakistani roots, although Sharaz describes himself as a third-generation Briton. "I would need a visa to go to Pakistan," he said.
He owns a pizzeria in Manchester while his friend Kareem owns furniture shops. When Kareem comes to Canada for treatment, he tells associates he is going on a business trip to avoid concern and questions about his eyesight. Now he's worried that will all change.
He also agrees with Sharaz about uncertainty over how they will be received when they travel back to the U.K. in a week — and when they next return to Canada.
"[Police] cleared me but there is still going to be doubt," Sharaz said, adding he has asked officers to accompany them to the airport when they leave so there are no mistakes, problems or delays getting out of the country.