Police officer recorded making racist remarks gets 'ridiculous' 20-day penalty, victim's father says

The father of a man whose phone captured a Peel police officer making racist remarks inside a police cruiser says the lack of consequences for the officer is "ridiculous" and has led to him losing all faith in the force.

Verdict in Const. Bernard Trlaja's case sends message that 'You can do whatever you want,' says Bashar Masad

Bashar Masad, whose son's phone captured a Peel police officer making discriminatory remarks against him, says the lack of consequences for the officer is 'ridiculous.' (Sue Reid/CBC)

The father of a man whose phone captured a Peel police officer making racist remarks inside a cruiser says the lack of consequences for the officer is "ridiculous" and has led to him losing all faith in the force.

After a two-and-half-year-long wait for the family of Masood Masad, this week a verdict came down in a disciplinary hearing for Peel police Const. Bernard Trlaja.

Trlaja, Ontario's police watchdog previously determined, was responsible for two forms of misconduct when he arrested Masad after a 2018 verbal altercation at the restaurant where Masad, 24 at the time, was picking up an order for the food delivery service DoorDash. 

On Wednesday, Trlaja was found guilty of discreditable conduct, for which he'll be subject to 20 days without pay, and will also have to undergo 16 hours of anger management classes within a 90-day timeframe. A second charge, unlawful arrest, was withdrawn in the first days of the hearing.

"I laughed for two minutes," the young man's father, Bashar Masad, told CBC News. 

'What's the message we're sending?'

"Now... he'll be back on the same job he left two-and-a-half years ago. So what's the message we're sending to the public and to the other officers? The message is: 'You can do whatever you want, even if you're recorded, even if the evidence is very, very clear,' like in our case."

It was November 2018 when a restaurant called police after an altercation where Masad allegedly claimed its employees were 20 minutes late with an order he was meant to deliver.

Security camera video of the cruiser where Const. Bernard Trlaja was recorded making disparaging remarks about Masood Masad. (Submitted by Masad family)

Trlaja called Masad's home. His mother believed it was a spam call at first and asked the officer to come to the house in person.

When he did, there was a confrontation. Masad tried to record the incident, but police instead arrested him and confiscated his phone, with Trlaja placing it on the front seat of his cruiser. 

At some point, the phone began recording again, capturing Trlaja making disparaging remarks about Masad's mother and about his background.

Among the comments: "Forget it, this kid obviously doesn't understand the rules, the nature and the culture of Canada."

Trlaja also said: "OK, he wants to be violent and bring that violence with him, then he's going to have to learn the way." 

All of the charges against Masad — who came to Canada when he was six years old — were dropped. 

'This does hurt trust with the community'

The hope, said Bashar Masad, was that Trlaja would be subject to a more meaningful penalty: administrative leave and an admonishment, for example. He also hoped the force would look at broader changes, such as cameras inside cruisers and examining whether police should be allowed to make anonymous phone calls. 

Instead, "it's like invitation to all other police officers that you can do whatever you want. There are no consequences," he said, adding the family is now exploring leaving not only Peel Region but Canada altogether to start a new life in the U.S.

Speaking to CBC News on Thursday, Peel Regional Police Sgt. Joe Cardi called what happened to Masad "very unfortunate."

WATCH | Mississauga family accuses an officer of unprofessional and racist conduct:

Mississauga family accuses an officer of unprofessional and racist conduct

4 years ago
Duration 3:17
Masood Masad is asking an Ontario police watchdog to investigate a Peel Regional Police officer who was recorded making racist statement after his arrest.

"What he had to go through is extremely difficult. The hearing officer had to take all the evidence in, weigh it down and determine what's the appropriate punishment that deters our officers from behaving this way in the future," Cardi said.

Trlaja, he added, has been very remorseful for his actions, apologizing to the family and pleading guilty, indicating he understands his behaviour was inappropriate. 

Twenty days without pay amounts to a loss hit of nearly $9,000 in salary, said Cardi, though he added he knows trust cannot be bought back. 

"This does hurt the trust with the community," he said, but added, "As a community for us, we have to move forward. We can't take this as 'us versus them' or the community hates police. when we start working together, we're going to get the results that we need."

Family awaits police force's apology

Exactly when Trlaja will return to work hasn't yet been determined, Cardi said, but a misconduct event will be listed as part of his file.

Cardi also thanked the family for their cooperation throughout the process, saying they chose not to look for "revenge" but rather how the service could be improved. 

For his part, Masad says, he awaits an apology from the force — something he says his family sought all along but has yet to receive.

If that doesn't happen, the family plans to file a complaint with Ontario's human rights commission, before exploring additional options. 

His son, now 27, is still struggling as a result of the ordeal, he says — unable to work or build the future they dreamed of.

"It looks like they don't care." 

With files from Shanifa Nasser and Jessica Cheung