Ottawa

Police silent after accusations of wrongful arrests during Parliament lockdown

Police agencies are not responding to accusations they wrongfully arrested two Sikh men and evacuated Parliament Hill Saturday based on what appears to be a bad tip. 

Sikh memorial event organizer wants answers on where ‘terrorism hoax’ originated

Police remove barricade tape after responding to an incident on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday, June 11, 2022. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Police agencies are not responding to accusations they wrongfully arrested two Sikh men and evacuated Parliament Hill Saturday based on what appears to be a bad tip. 

Members of the United Front of Sikhs Canada, which co-ordinates events to commemorate the 1984 Sikh massacre in India, have stood on Parliament Hill with signs nearly every June since 2017, but this year's rally was marred by what they call a "terrorism hoax."

"This event is designed to remember the loss of life and then give some of the few survivors that we do have left the opportunity to have open dialogue with their community about how they feel," said Harpreet Hansra, one of the event's organizers. 

According to Hansra, when organizers arrived on the Hill Saturday they were told a security threat prevented them from gathering where they had initially planned.

Instead, Hansra and other participants moved to a location in front of the Supreme Court of Canada, which was outside of the area secured by police. 

Shortly after setting up in the new location, Ottawa police asked Hansra to identify Manveer Singh, one of the other organizers of the event.

Parminder Singh, another event organizer, then received a phone call from police.

Hansra said both men willingly went with police for further questioning. 

The two men could not be reached for comment by CBC. A public relations firm was hired to represent them, and the firm asked Hansra to speak on their behalf.

Manveer Singh told Canadian Press police arrested him and told him they had "credible information" he was connected to a serious bomb threat, adding he was searched and handcuffed, then taken to the police station for questioning. Parminder Singh said he was arrested not long afterward. The two said they were later released with an apology. 

Men released after questioning

He recalled that after a few hours, the two were released. Hansra said a brief conversation with officers revealed the threat that caused the lockdown was "quite detailed."

"They continually told us that we were the victims of a terrorism hoax and they apologized for our event being interrupted," he said.

Harpreet Hansra is the volunteer director of United Front of Sikhs Canada, a group that was told Saturday a security threat would prevent them from gathering on Parliament Hill. (CBC)

Police sources told CBC News the tip to law enforcement, which first came to the Canada Border Services Agency, was that members of an extremist group called Babbar Khalsa were headed to a protest with explosives in tow. 

Also known as Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), the group is deemed a terrorist entity that "aims to establish a fundamentalist independent Sikh state called Khalistan," according to Public Safety Canada.

Hansra said the two men identified as "persons of interest" are not members of BKI.

He said police released the two with an apology, telling them it was a terrorism hoax and it had nothing to do with the event or Sikh community.

"The two individuals did not pose a security threat at any time. These members are upstanding members of the community. They're both businesspeople. I personally have known them for a very long time," he said.

Police have not confirmed or denied the nature of their operation.

Police were on the lookout for 3 people: sources

Ottawa police officers were told to be on the lookout for three people, including Parminder Singh and Manveer Singh. 

Hansra said he was unaware of a third person being involved and knew nothing about police seeking a third person.

A member of the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) responds to the incident on Parliament Hill on Saturday. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa police said in a statement Monday that no public safety threat was identified. 

"The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) has no further update as the investigation into the matter is now concluded. We can confirm that no charge was laid by OPS," the statement read.

The RCMP and Parliamentary Protective Service directed questions to Ottawa police.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada is now calling on Canadian law enforcement to fully investigate and prosecute those responsible "for targeting a Sikh rally in Ottawa with a false bomb threat."

Hansra echoed those calls. 

"The people that provided this information and created this huge stir in Ottawa and in and around Parliament are in fact the people who are inflicting terrorism on Canadians with these types of terrorism hoaxes," he said.

"As a Canadian, somebody who's been born and raised in Canada and takes a lot of pride in Canada …Canadians do deserve an answer on ... where this terrorism hoax came from."

After police initially deemed the tip credible, members of parliament, senators and their staff were told at 12:55 p.m. to "shelter in place" as officers closed off streets while they investigated what they called a "suspicious incident" and a "potential threat in the Parliament Hill area."

In Ottawa's downtown core, officers closed Wellington Street between Elgin Street and Bronson Avenue, as well as Metcalfe Street between Albert and Slater streets.

Senior government sources told CBC News that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino were both briefed on the incident. At the time, Trudeau was in Los Angeles about to head back to Canada following the conclusion of the Summit of the Americas.

By 3:35 p.m., police barricade tape that blocked access to Parliament Hill started coming down.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Fraser

Reporter

David Fraser is an Ottawa-based journalist for CBC News who previously reported in Alberta and Saskatchewan. He enjoys being outside, playing hockey and spending time with his family. You can reach him at david.fraser@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press, Shaamini Yogaretnam, Avanthika Anand and Philip Ling

now