BY HUGH ADAMI, OTTAWA CITIZEN Saturday, October 27, 2012 | OTTAWA — “As you are aware,” Ottawa police Staff Sgt. Mark Patterson told me the other day, “there’s more than one side to a story.”
Still, said Patterson, head of the force’s guns and gangs unit and its Direct Action Response Team (DART), “I don’t want to get into a debate” about the police’s role in the arrest and nine-day detention of Somali-American Mahad Abdulhamid Islam. The 32-year-old, a frequent visitor to Ottawa as he has family here, alleges that in custody, medication to treat his attention deficit disorder was denied and the water taps of the sink in his cell were turned off. His pleas for something to drink went unanswered, he says. He drank from the toilet, preserving the water in the bowl by defecating and urinating on his cell floor.
The Public Citizen wasn’t interested in a debate, either. This newspaper just wanted him or someone on the force to explain why on Oct. 10 DART officers stopped the car in which Islam was a passenger. Islam and his cousins had been going to visit family when their car was stopped on Bank Street, near Cahill Drive, in South Keys — an area known for gang activity, shootings and drug trafficking.
Farah Aw-Osman, a spokesman for Ottawa’s 20,000-strong Somali community, says he, too, would like to hear the police’s side. He says there have been many instances in which young, innocent Somali-Canadians have been stopped and harassed by police because of their ethnicity. Aw-Osman, executive director of Canadian Friends of Somalia, believes young men in his community are often victims of racial profiling. Sure, he says, there are some bad apples and he supports the force’s work to get them off the streets. But, for the most part, he says the young men are good, law-abiding people and should not have their rights violated.
One mother, who doesn’t want to be identified because she fears it would only mean more trouble for her son, says young Somali males are even harassed by police on their way to the mosque, and often asked to empty their pockets or backpacks.
Islam was released from the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre on Innes Road Oct. 19. In freeing him, an immigration judge said the man would have to return to the U.S. because of a misdemeanour conviction in Virginia. But the judge also said there had been no need for Canada Border Services Agency officers, who Ottawa police called to deal with Islam, to jail him. The judge said Islam was identified through his U.S. passport, did not pose a flight risk and was not a danger to the public.
In a Citizen story Thursday, Islam said there was no apparent reason why police stopped the blue Toyota he and two cousins were in, other than, he believes, their colour.
After spending the week after his release with relatives, Islam was planning to rent a car and motor to Virginia Friday. His U.S. passport was waiting for him at a CBSA office at the 1000 Islands border crossing. But he was still wondering what became of his iPhone, which he claims was seized by the CBSA agents when he was arrested. He thinks they realized he was using the phone to tape what they were saying to him. He says the CBSA told him the cellphone was sent to the jail with his other belongings. The jail, he says, told him the $600 phone was not among the possessions they received from the agency.
Patterson says DART’s prime mandate is “providing high visibility and an active police presence in these communities” where gangs are a problem. Dart officers are primarily on the lookout, says Patterson, for individuals who are on court-imposed conditions. If police suspect someone fails to abide by a court order — i.e. not associating with certain people, abstaining from drugs — they can stop the individual and ask questions. If any of the conditions are broken, the person is arrested.
Patterson, who says he reviewed the Oct. 10 incident and determined his officers acted properly, stresses that “race and religion” are never factors when they decide to question an individual. Rather, says Patterson, DART officers “are looking at (the) criminal behaviour and criminal activity” (of those being monitored).
Patterson says DART officers also keep an eye out for traffic violations and other offences.
So presumably, either one or both of Islam’s cousins were under court conditions when they were spotted. Police would have had to suspect they were up to no good to stop them. Perhaps Islam caught their attention, though it appears they only focused on him after dealing with the driver. Or was it all over a traffic offence?
Relatives say Islam’s two cousins are not lawbreakers, but add they had been stopped by police on previous occasions. Regardless, the cousins were sent on their way following Islam’s arrest, without even a traffic ticket. If either were under court-imposed conditions, they must have been obeying them.
Islam admits he refused to answer questions from police after presenting his U.S. passport. The DART unit then called in the CBSA, whose agents work with those officers two days a week. The CBSA agents asked their office for a background check, which determined that Islam was convicted of assault and battery in 2007. He was arrested because of the possibility that he was “criminally inadmissible” to Canada, says CBSA spokesman Chris Kealey.
Islam, who was not jailed for the conviction and for that reason would be admissible to Canada under a March 2012 policy, was first taken to a CBSA office before he was dropped off at the detention centre.
Rezaur Rahman, Islam’s lawyer, says police had no reason to alert the CBSA because Islam’s passport indicated he had entered Canada legally and had visitor’s status, granted by the CBSA at the airport. Rahman says CBSA agents also disregarded that information. He says they should have known better.
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