Guelph police admit error with media officers about MP Tabbara's arrest

In June, police in Guelph, Ont., said the service's media officer didn't know Marwan Tabbara was a sitting MP. Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request show that's not true.

'When and if it hits the news there could be a bit of a media frenzy,' arresting officer wrote in email

Police in Guelph say they made an error when they said a media officer was unaware Marwan Tabbara, seen here last October, was a sitting MP at the time of his arrest in April. The police service has defended its decision not to publicize the Kitchener South-Hespeler MP's name. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The Guelph Police Service has admitted it made an error when it said a media officer was unaware Marwan Tabbara was a sitting Member of Parliament at the time of his arrest in April.

Tabbara, the MP for Kitchener South-Hespeler, west of Toronto, has been charged with two counts of assault, one count of break and enter and commit an indictable offence, and one count of criminal harassment. He was arrested on April 9.

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo contacted Guelph Police Service on the afternoon of June 4 asking if Tabbara had been charged. On the morning of June 5, media officer Const. Brian Murphy said the service "[does] not release details of ongoing investigations nor do we release names of individuals."

Just after noon the same day, Murphy confirmed "the gentleman you've mentioned" had been charged.

In a news release on June 10, the Guelph Police Service defended a decision not to publicize Tabbara's name at the time of his arrest.

"In this case, the arrest of Mr. Tabbara was not brought to the attention of the media office," the release said.

'Media frenzy'

But emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request by CBC Kitchener-Waterloo revealed the media officer was told about Tabbara's arrest and that he was an MP.

An email dated April 10 from Const. Meg Hern to then-media officer Const. Kyle Grant said: "Just want you to have the heads-up the accused in [the case] is a federal MP so when and if it hits the news there could be a bit of a media frenzy."

The documents noted subsequent to the media release on June 10, it was discovered the "media statement included an error, that being that the media officer on April 10, 2020 had, in fact, been made aware of the arrest of Tabbara by the arresting officer the day after the arrest was made."

Tabbara's arrest and subsequent charges did not make headlines until June 5, when CBC and other news agencies reported on it.

The service said a different officer took over the role of media officer on June 1 and that person "was unaware of the circumstances of the Tabbara matter."

The service said it was discovered after the June 10 release that the media officer had been made aware of the arrest by the arresting officer; "however, it would not have impacted the manner in which this incident was dealt with by the media officer at the time." 

That's because the service generally does not release details, including identifying victims or suspects, in domestic cases.

The police service said executive members were not made aware of Tabbara's arrest at the time and any decisions to release names or personal information is up to the chief.

Court appearance over Easter weekend

In response to a request for comment, Tabbara's executive assistant Peter Maloney said the "simple reason" it appears Tabbara's name wasn't released was because the arrest and court appearance happened over the Easter long weekend.

When police returned to office activities on the Tuesday, "they seem to have chosen not to try to cover everything that happened over the three to four days of the weekend but rather just to post their usual report of police action highlights of the previous day," he said.

"In any event, [the service's] general practice appears to be not to publish the names of those persons charged unless there is a need to do so to alert the public to a potential danger," Maloney wrote.

Ran in 2019 

Tabbara was first elected in 2015 and re-elected in 2019. He was allowed to run in 2019 despite the Liberals conducting an investigation into accusations he touched and made lewd comments to a female staffer.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said previously that the party was not made aware of the April charges until it was revealed in the media in early June 2020.

Tabbara has since stepped down from the Liberal caucus but remains a sitting MP.