Hamilton cop investigated over anti-Muslim posts
Man pulled over in traffic stop complains to Ontario agency
A police oversight agency is probing allegations that a Hamilton police officer publicly supported “inflammatory” anti-Muslim posts and groups online.
The complaint to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director comes amid public debate over how Hamilton police interact with visible minorities. It also raises questions about what’s fair game to post online as personal opinion when you represent a public police force.
Julian Mallah says he researched the online footprint of Const. Brad Lawrie after an “uncomfortable” and “intimidating” encounter during a traffic stop last November.
The 25-year-old admits he was caught speeding on Highway 6 and had a small amount of marijuana in the car. The latter discovery spurred a charge that was later withdrawn — but also a search that turned up his
Lebanese ID card.
“He kept coming back to that card. Why did I have it, what was I doing in Lebanon?” said the dual citizen. “I told him I visited family. He laughed and asked ‘What were you really doing there?’”
“Eventually I said, ‘Look man, I’m not even Muslim, not that it matters,” he said.
The Spectator was unable to reach Lawrie through police or at his home over two days. But Hamilton Police Association president Clint Twolan told the CBC the officer has been instructed not to comment. He also called the allegations “unfair and inaccurate.”
Hamilton police declined to comment, citing the need to respect the integrity of the OIPRD probe.
Mallah says he went home and stewed about the encounter. “That was the first time I’ve ever felt singled out for my ethnicity,” he said. So the recent criminology graduate from Carleton University set out to learn about the officer, finding a Facebook page with a profile photo of Lawrie in uniform.
He said the page also contained re-posts of “anti-Muslim rhetoric” and appeared to show the officer had “liked” or supported groups called Stop Islamization of America, Boycott Halal, and North American Defense League. The latter says online it is “dedicated to the removal of Islam from the western hemisphere.”
A Twitter account for a Brad Lawrie using the handle @thespeedhammer include retweets of what Mallah calls “xenophobic” posts, including one stating “It’s them or us! Our government has NO interest in our safety. Stay Vigilant.” The tweet shows an image with this message; “Radical Islam: Either we kill them or they kill us.”
Those Facebook and Twitter profiles no longer exist online, but Mallah took screenshots and a video which he gave to The Spectator and OIPRD as part of his complaint in May. The Spectator could not independently verify the origins of the information.
OIPRD does not comment on investigations. But the agency sent Mallah a letter in June confirming it was investigating.
Mallah said he would like the officer to apologize and engage in sensitivity training. He added the public has the right to know about the alleged online behaviour. “He’s wearing his uniform on his profile picture and he’s endorsing these inflammatory groups ... What message does that send about Hamilton police?”
Hamilton police wouldn’t provide a copy of social media policies for officers, directing The Spectator to file a Freedom of Information request.
Toronto police posts guidelines online, including this advice; “Consider everything you do online to be in the public realm. Assume that everything you do, no matter how inconsequential or obscure will be seen by the public, the media and the Chief.”
It’s always a bad move for an identifiable police officer to “tweet or post things that might cause people to question your judgment,” said Lauri Stevens, a social media strategist for law enforcement. “I know some will always argue it’s free speech. But there is always that risk people will … equate it with the opinion of your police department.”
Police in Hamilton and other cities are dealing with growing community backlash over socalled street checks that critics say unfairly target blacks and minorities. The board is working on draft guidelines to bring the practice in line with new provincial rules.
But the service also reports 17 per cent of its sworn officers selfidentify as diverse or aboriginal — a statistical doubling over 2005 and on par with the city population.