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Watchdog clears RCMP in arrest at Surrey vigil for victims of New Zealand massacre

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police "E" Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018.
The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police "E" Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C.’s civilian police watchdog has cleared the RCMP of any wrongdoing in an incident where a man was hurt during an arrest prior to a vigil for the victims of 2019’s New Zealand white supremacist terror attack.

At the time, police issued a media release saying the man had been “acting suspiciously and disturbing the peace” and alleging he was yelling racial slurs and taking photos of the crowd and police vehicles.

READ MORE: Man accused of yelling racial slurs during Surrey vigil injured during arrest, watchdog investigating

While the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) found that officers had committed no offence in arresting the man, it also said there was no evidence the man was either at the vigil or yelling racial slurs.

The incident happened on March 17, 2019 at 3:48 p.m., according to a report from the IIO’s chief civilian director.

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The IIO found the man, identified as AP, was walking across Surrey’s Civic Square prior to the vigil, and shot several photos and video because he was curious about the heavy police presence.

An officer at the scene, identified as SO, noticed the man — then saw him jaywalk across City Parkway, according to the report.

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When the officer asked the man to stop, he refused, at which point the officer grabbed his arm and used a “leg sweep” to knock him to the ground when he tried to pull away, said the IIO.

As he was being handcuffed, AP complained of a pain in his leg, and was yelling, swearing and using homophobic slurs against the officers, the report found.

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The report concluded that the officer’s use of force was proportionate to the incident, considering the man was resistant to officers when they approached him.

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However, it noted that the unfounded allegations against the man, which were made public in a media release, were “potentially serious and damaging” to AP.

The IIO found those unfounded allegations were most likely the result of a miscommunication, as neither of the officers present during the arrest itself mentioned racial slurs or disturbing the vigil in their reports.

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The allegations appear to have originated from the RCMP supervisor at the scene, who told investigators he’d heard it from one of the two arresting officers.

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“Heightened concerns about the potential for disruption of an emotionally-charged gathering may have coloured [the supervisor’s] interpretation of the arrest of an angry, shouting person close to the location,” said the report.

“It is particularly unfortunate that this inaccurate interpretation was reported in an RCMP media release, and into the public sphere, but the evidence does not give rise to a reasonable belief that an officer thereby committed an offence by deliberately reporting false information.”