Ottawa

Some in Sikh community want full investigation into arrests and 'terrorism hoax'

Some in Ottawa's Sikh community want to see a full investigation into what appears to be a bad tip to law enforcement, that led to Parliament Hill being evacuated and two men being arrested on Saturday.

2 Sikh men were arrested and released after Parliament Hill evacuated Saturday

Sikh leader says news of arrests on Parliament Hill was ‘very painful’

2 months ago
Duration 1:15
Inderjit Singh Sambi, president of the Ottawa Sikh Society, says hearing the news that police had arrested two people at a peaceful commemoration event based on a bad tip was ‘very painful’ and resurfaced old memories of harmful stereotypes.

Some in Ottawa's Sikh community want to see a full investigation into what appears to be a bad tip to law enforcement that led to Parliament Hill being evacuated and two men being arrested on Saturday. 

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

After an investigation, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) said no public safety threat was identified. 

Manveer Singh and Parminder Singh told The Canadian Press police arrested and questioned them, then apologized and released them. They were two organizers of an event by Members of the United Front of Sikhs Canada to commemorate the 1984 Sikh massacre in India. 

In a memo to the Ottawa Police Services Board, interim OPS chief Steve Bell says police acted in good faith and are aware of the impact of the investigation on the city and those arrested. 

Police reaching out to community for feedback

The memo said police have reached out to the leadership of Ottawa's Sikh community and will be meeting with them later this week to discuss the police response. 

The memo said when an RCMP investigation is complete, OPS will fully review the incident and the feedback from the community to look at how police can improve responses to similar incidents.

Inderjit Singh Sambi with the Ottawa Sikh Society says when he heard about the incident, it was painful. 

"When these incidents happen … in the news, it's just 'Sikh' and 'terrorist groups.' [People] just basically equate them, and that's it. People just stop there. They don't go any further," said Sambi.

"We were afraid that … the Sikh image is going to be all maligned." 

Sambi said police have been in touch. 

First responders lift tape blocking off streets around Parliament Hill during an incident June 11, 2022. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

"We don't have an issue with the Ottawa police. But as I said, somehow someone in Canada, border security forces, got this in ... and nothing came out. So this thing has to be investigated to the point where you get an answer, like, where did it come from?" Sambi said. 

Another organizer said Wednesday afternoon he and the two organizers arrested have not been contacted by police. He said they have a lot of questions about where the information came from and why it was deemed credible enough to warrant such a huge response. 

"This was definitely an infringement of human rights to those two gentlemen and to the Sikh community that was there," said Harpreet Hansra.

"There's been a lot of instances in the last couple of years of anti-Sikh rhetoric and it looks like the ugly head of anti-Sikh rhetoric is now once again bringing its head up. We want to make sure that all minorities have an equal opportunity to rally, to protest."

False association with terrorism damaging

Tejpreet Dulat is a member of the Sikh community and owns a restaurant near Parliament Hill. He said even if it was a hoax, the community being associated with terrorism is damaging. 

Dulat said even though an investigation found there was no threat to the public, he worries about the perception of his community. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

"When some community is blamed … or name come[s] up like this in the news, there is anxiety, yes, there is always a fear [that] comes up as my little one goes to the school and all those things. These things can bring the bullying in the kids," Dulat said. 

"Police should be more careful on those things, same as the media."

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

"It was very alarming. This is a yearly commemoration marking the 1984 invasion of one of the most sacred sites in the Sikh faith. And it looks like there was an active attempt to thwart participation," said Balpreet Singh, legal counsel spokesperson for the organization. 

Police board chair Eli El-Chantiry said the board is not involved in daily police operations, but "does recognize the importance of community partnerships and trust, as well as the ongoing need for dialogue with the community." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.

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