When Mohammed Sharaz first visited Vancouver from England last year with his 14-year-old son Salahuddin, he found the city amazing.
“The experience was probably the best country I’ve been to. Not just the roads and scenery, but the people were brilliant. Everybody who I spoke to was so nice, so genuine. They wouldn’t look at my wife and my son differently than anyone else. There was no racism, no [discrimination] of religion or creed, it was brilliant,” he said.
In his second trip to Vancouver, Sharaz feels trapped.
“We haven’t gone anywhere,” he says.
“I can’t take [my son and friend], who are both visually impaired, anywhere because anything can happen. Some people do decide to act like heroes, and think ‘Alright, I’ve grabbed a hold of him, I’m making our country safer.’ For that reason, we haven’t gone anywhere.”
Two days ago Sharaz, his son and his friend unwittingly became the centre of a police and media firestorm. Security footage showed the three of them taking photos and video in Pacific Centre Mall days earlier. The Vancouver Police Deparment was trying to identify them – and an internal memo about the investigation, including pictures of them, was sent to the online news site Vancity Buzz, which published a story on January 16.
“They didn’t think much of us, they sent it out, caused a lot of panic, caused a lot of grief for us,” Sharaz said.
“They’ve published this story without blurring the faces. He’s a child, he’s going to look over his shoulder the rest of his life now. They’ve released it without blurring the photos, so the whole world’s seen us.”
VPD subsequently confirmed to Global News the story was accurate, and said they would also be sending out unblurred photos of the three males. But later that evening, they said there was “no reason believe that these men have committed a crime or “that the public is currently at risk,” and opted not to share the photos.
The next day, VPD Chief Cst. Adam Palmer said the memo “was not intended or authorized to be shared with the general public at this time,” and hours later said the three were “completely innocent.”
READ MORE: VPD say men filming in Pacific Centre ‘completely innocent’
The three tourists say that’s not good enough, and are calling for an investigation.
“Who’s responsible?” asked Mohammed Karieem, Sharaz’s friend.
“It’s one or two people or 10 people who leaked this story. At the end of the day, they’re responsible, and we need to know who they are, and why they did it. What’s the purpose?”
Sharaz, his son Salahuddin and Karieem were visiting Vancouver to visit a doctor who is treating Salahuddin and Karieem’s eye condition.
“[My son] has a rare visual impairment, is registered as blind, and only see 20 degrees,” Sharaz said. “It’s not a case of walking into a room and seeing everyone at first glance.”
For that reason, Sharaz says they take many more photos and videos when travelling than other tourists might.
“He’s going to go back, put phone onto a computer, and show his school friends that I’ve been to Vancouver, and this is what I’ve seen. The main reason for him to take a picture is, if he’s looking at something, he can’t see it like me and you. He’ll take a picture of something, and then zoom into when he gets back [home], and go ‘right, that’s what that looked like,'” says Sharaz.
He says they were the victims of racial profiling – “If it was three Caucasian men, it wouldn’t have been a big deal” – but says he understands why Pacific Centre security found their photography curious and alerted police.
“They looked at it, thought these guys are up to something dodgy. I don’t mind that, the police have a job to do. If they felt something’s not right, even a small thing, it’s their job to investigate. That little thing, if it’s ignored, it could become something major,” Sharaz said.
However, he’s disappointed with the lack of communication from the VPD since he reached out to them Friday morning.
“They haven’t said, ‘We’re sorry for what’s happened’…they haven’t come back and asked if we need any help,” he said.
“The least they could do is say, ‘we’ve got a police officer, he’ll stay with you now,’ take us out somewhere. Make sure we can carry on doing our normal activities and feel safe.”
One person who did reach to the trio is Salim Jiwa, a local freelance reporter who worked for The Province newspaper as an investigative reporter for decades.
“After listening to their story, I felt terrible inside,” said Jiwa, who connected with Sharaz over Twitter.
“I apologized to them on behalf of Canadians. I felt so bad this could happen in our country to two handicapped people.”
He’s calling on Vancouver Police to formally apologize.
“They have to apologize to these people, and they have to investigate how a sensitive terrorism memo goes out into the hands of the media,” he said.
“I think it was a deliberate leak, and I think the VPD has to reassure us through an investigation that it was not a deliberate leak, because they jeopardized these people’s lives.”