'Suspicious' men at Vancouver mall 'completely innocent': VPD
Published Friday, January 15, 2016 7:33AM PST Last Updated Friday, January 15, 2016 7:10PM PST
Vancouver police say they have spoken to the three men seen taking detailed pictures and videos at a busy downtown mall and say the trio is “completely innocent.”
Staff at the Pacific Centre mall notified police after what it deemed “unusual activity” Tuesday evening.
Janine Ramparas said it was following standard operating procedures and that the mall encourages patrons and staff to alert management if they witness anything unusual.
Police said the “Middle Eastern-looking men" were taking 360-degree videos and snapping photos of various entrances and exits of the shopping centre.
In a press conference Friday, police downplayed the incident, saying suspicious incidents are routinely investigated by the force and there was no evidence that the men committed a crime – or that the public was at risk.
VPD Chief Adam Palmer said information about the mall incident was sent out to forces across the province through an internal bulletin, but it was never meant to be made public.
This particular bulletin was somehow leaked to a media outlet, although the force isn’t sure who would have passed on the info.
Palmer said the VPD wasn’t planning on going public with the story because they didn’t think it was serious enough.
“It’s a pretty serious thing if we release photos when someone’s job could be affected. Neighbours could think they’re up to something that they’re not and people could jump to conclusions,” Palmer said.
Hours after the press conference police said they had spoken to the men who took the photos, and that they were cooperative with investigators.
The men had a logical explanation for being in the mall and their behavior, said Const. Brian Montague.
“The investigation has conclusively determined that their actions were completely innocent,” he said in a statement issued to media.
“Vancouver remains a very safe city and the public should have no concerns about shopping at Pacific Centre or attending any other public place.”
The police’s characterization of the men in the photo as Middle Eastern was criticized by some, who called it possibly inaccurate and unfair.
Police told CTV News they included the phrase as a descriptor to help identify a person of interest. However Mohamed Boudjenane, director of the Canadian Arab Federation, said it’s not clear to him from the blurry photos that the men are Middle Eastern, and may be from North Africa, or as far away as Pakistan.
In light of last week’s attacks on Syrian refugees the media needs avoid jumping to conclusions, he said.
“In our view that will only add fuel to the fire and accentuate xenophobia and racism, people should be careful including police and media before labelling someone as belonging to a certain race,” said Boudjenane.
Boudjenane said he supported investigating suspicious acts, regardless of a person’s race.