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September 15, 2010

Why was the media able to film the arrest of Ottawa Muslims?

Scott Stockdale

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The fear and suspense is palpable as one watches the CBC video of the raid late last month on an alleged terrorist's residence in Ottawa. In fact, it's almost indistinguishable from a scene in a television crime show.

A CBC narrator informs the viewing public that police raided two homes in Ottawa this morning, made a couple of arrests, and that there could be more; then the camera focuses on CBC reporter Leslie McKinnon, and the narrator informs us that she’s outside one of the residences.

“Very early this morning, under the cover of darkness, police descended on this quiet block in the west end of Ottawa,” Ms. McKinnon says. “One man was arrested and at least one woman, her face veiled by a hijab. Neighbours say one or two small children were carried out as well.”

She goes on to tell us that police executed search warrants and computer equipment was taken out. This is indeed good theatre, and bound to increase CBC News’ ratings.

Already, viewers must be apprehensive as they contemplate the idea that these people are “the enemy within,” but a brief interview with a neighbour reinforces this impression.

“They kept a low profile. If, in fact, they are terrorists, they did this on purpose. They weren’t going to give us anything to be concerned about,” the neighbour says.

Pictures of heavily armed police officers carrying out boxes of what is purported to be evidence, also appeared in the print media. One has to wonder how the media got to this alleged crime scene in time to see the police in action. However, after calls from The Canadian Charger to the RCMP, Ottawa Police and CSIS, the answer remains a mystery.

When I asked RCMP media relations Constable Susan Lefort, of A Division in Ottawa, how the media got to the scene in such a timely fashion, she replied: “We have no regards to that. We informed them through a press release, that there was going to be a press conference the next day. It’s on our website.”

“Yes but did you call the media and inform them that an arrest or search was going to take place?” I asked.

“Absolutely not. We don’t ask them to be there,” she said.

Lefort suggested I call the media outlets and ask them how they got the information; something I think we both knew would be a futile endeavour. She also offered to try to find out how the media got the information.

“I’ll try. If I don’t call you, it’s because I couldn’t get the information.”

Subsequently, Constable Jean Paul Vincelette, who handles media relations for the Ottawa City Police, said: “We don’t comment on that. It’s an RCMP investigation. The RCMP are the spokespeople for that.”

After thinking about his answer for a few minutes, I called him back and asked how media personnel get to any crime scene investigation.

“They find out as it’s happening or shortly thereafter,” he said. “They may get a call from citizens saying ‘Hey, there’s four or five cruisers at this address’. If they [the media] call us, we provide what we can, but we won’t be specific. We may say we’re executing a warrant, but it’s an ongoing investigation and we can’t comment on the nature of the investigation. We don’t comment on an ongoing investigation.”

CSIS spokesperson Isabelle Scott said: “Honestly, the RCMP is the lead agency for the arrest. We have nothing to do with the arrest.”

And in answer to my question, she replied: “No, CSIS doesn’t call the media and inform them that there’s going to be an arrest.”

Meanwhile, Salem Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, is convinced that some law enforcement officials in Canada do, in fact, call the media and inform them about a pending arrest and search.

“There is very serious leaking by our public institutions in Canada. The purpose is to get more financing by showing the RCMP is doing its job. They’ve lost some cases because of public opinion. In spite of the fact that the accused were Muslim, members of the public came forward and said this is unacceptable.”

He added that investigators stated publicly that they weren’t ready to make this arrest. It was made in haste, yet the media was there to film them carrying boxes of “evidence” out of the house.

“This is not evidence. It’s someone’s belongings. It only becomes evidence if they can prove it’s related to a crime. It creates an atmosphere of danger [but] fear and hate and paranoia don’t justify anyone targeting civilians [read: Muslim community] by talking about it alleged crimes.

“They’re already talking about how to fix serious problems in the Muslim community, generalizing about all Muslims. These people haven’t been found guilty, but they’re already making theories about them. They don’t make theories about people who bomb abortion clinics, or electrical lines.”

While there is no direct evidence linking any law enforcement organization to these arrests and searches in front of the cameras – something that doesn’t occur for most crimes–Mr. Elmenyawi pointed the finger directly at CSIS.

“They (CSIS) received millions of dollars after 9/11. They want to prove they’re right.  In the Toronto 18 case, seven had charges dropped, only two were found guilty in court; and the rest made deals so they could get on with their lives. The RCMP should be careful about the intelligence it’s getting from CSIS. We’re watching this case closely. We believe they’re going to run into the same sort of thing.”

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