Two organizers of a Sikh event near Parliament Hill on Saturday say they are still in shock after being wrongfully arrested in connection with a bomb threat, an experience one of the men described as “disrespectful” and “harassment.”
Manveer Singh, an organizer of a remembrance rally for the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India, said his group had received a permit to gather on the Hill, but when members arrived they were told they were not allowed to be there because of an ongoing threat in the area.
Parminder Singh, another organizer, said they relocated to the lawn in front of the Supreme Court of Canada nearby to hold their event.
A few minutes after the rally got underway, Manveer Singh said police arrested him and told him they had “credible information” that he was connected to a serious bomb threat on the Hill.
“They believed that I’m the one who’s gonna do that. I was shocked. I’m gathering my community here to bomb them?” he said, adding that police searched him, handcuffed him and brought him to the police station for questioning.
He said police asked to frisk his turban while searching him outside the Supreme Court.
“If I don’t obey their instructions they could have done anything to me, because the threat was very big, it was a security threat to the national Parliament.”
Parminder Singh said he was arrested not long afterward by Ottawa police, who told him that his name was connected to an alleged bomb threat of Parliament.
“It doesn’t make sense because I know I am not involved in anything. I’m proud as a Canadian Sikh. I love this country, I will do everything to protect this country,” he said.
“Why am I arrested? Because I’m wearing a turban and my skin is not white? What’s going on?” he added.
Ottawa police did not answer questions about the men’s account of events, saying only that the investigation into the matter is now concluded and no charges were laid.
The two organizers said that police also searched their cars for explosives.
When in police custody, both men said officers had them take off their turbans. Manveer Singh said he was also made to remove other religious symbols including a bracelet called a kara and a ceremonial sword known as a kirpan.
“They wanted me to untie my turban because they have to search very closely ΓÇª Because I believe that I was the terrorist at that time in their eyes,” he said.
After being in custody for a short while, Parminder Singh said police released him and apologized, adding they arrested him based on wrong information.
The men said police told them that the information that connected them to the threat came from the Canada Border Services Agency.
Rebecca Purdy, spokesperson for Canada Border Services Agency, said in a statement Monday that the agency works regularly with law enforcement to ensure border security, including intelligence and enforcement.
The RCMP said Monday that it can only confirm details related to criminal investigations where charges have been laid.
Police said in a statement Saturday that they received information about a potential threat near the parliamentary precinct, prompting them to close some surrounding streets to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
The Parliamentary Protective Service also ordered an evacuation of Parliament Hill, issuing an alert to all members of Parliament and staff and noting all buildings in the precinct were to be under shelter-in-place orders until further notice.
Both of the Sikh rally organizers say they are worried about the damage done to their reputations as a result of being arrested in connection to the explosives threat.
Although police said they were conducting an investigation and if they did not find anything, they would release him, Parminder Singh said they should have done an investigation before arresting him.
“It’s deeply hurt my kids, my wife and also other community members,” Parminder Singh said, calling the experience “disrespectful” and “harassment.”
He said his group began organizing these rallies in 2017, to gather Sikhs from across Ontario and Quebec. Events have been cancelled over the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You’re arresting me doing a peacefully rally? I’ve been doing this for almost my whole life.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2022.
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