Hamil­ton cop in­ves­ti­gated over anti-Mus­lim posts

Man pulled over in traf­fic stop com­plains to On­tario agency

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW VAN DON­GEN

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.

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