An unnamed person involved with the Vancity Buzz website apparently posed as a mall security officer in order to confirm a leaked police bulletin a year ago, according to a Vancouver Police Department report obtained by theBreaker.
The website, which rebranded as Daily Hive last June, obtained an internal police bulletin that sought information about three Middle Eastern-looking males that police feared were planning a terrorist attack at Vancouver’s Pacific Centre. The two men and a teenager turned out to be innocent tourists from Great Britain, in Vancouver for medical treatment. They were spotted by mall security photographing the inside of the mall on the evening of Jan. 12, 2016 and reported to police the next day.
A May 20, 2016-dated review by the VPD Professional Standards Section — finally released on Jan. 13, 2017 by the police FOI office — says the leaked internal bulletin did not come from anyone inside the VPD, but it had been shared with the province’s Real Time Information Centre at RCMP E Division headquarters in Surrey and another agency whose name was censored.
The censored after-action report about so-called Project Tribeca, by Sgt. Mark Bragagnolo of the Criminal Intelligence Unit, said between 7:49 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Jan. 14, 2016, Det. Colin Small received over a dozen calls about the bulletin, including one from a male who the detective believed to be with mall security.
“They quoted the case number and wanted to confirm if it was three or four males involved in the incident. Det. Small believed the individual was mall security as the case number was only known to the police and security at the mall. He confirmed that there were only three males involved. In hindsight, Det. Small now believes that this call was in fact Vancity Buzz.
“At approximately 8:30 p.m., investigators were alerted to the fact that the bulletin was posted on the internet. Sgt. Bragagnolo immediately contacted Sgt. Fincham who confirmed the bulletin was on the Vancity Buzz web page and going viral. In consultation with Sgt. Bragagnolo and the VPD Executive it was decided that the VPD would confirm the story and issue a press release with a Tip Line. Immediately after the bulletin was posted online tips from the public were being reported to CIU.”
By the next morning, more than 40 tips were received. But, at 9:30 a.m., one of the males in the bulletin photographs called the tip line.
Mohammed Sharaz of Manchester told VPD that he was in the photographs with his 14-year-old son Salahuddin Sharaz and friend Mohammed Kareem. He told police that they were in the city for visually impaired Salahuddin to receive medical treatment.
“He stated that he would be at the clinic all day. All aspects of the males’ stories were confirmed and it was determined that their behaviour was innocent in nature,” the report said. “At [noon], the Command Room was stood down.”
Chief Adam Palmer, who denied it was an incident of racial profiling, ordered an internal review.
Bragagnolo’s report said that the version of the bulletin published by Vancity Buzz had an RTIC-BC task number in the top left corner, but the bulletin that was later disseminated to a large distribution list by RTIC-BC did not. The original bulletin on the Patrol Bulletin Board was not the bulletin obtained by the media.
“At the time of the call, Det. Small did not know the bulletin was leaked. Det. Small now believes that this caller was in fact Vancity Buzz confirming the story. Det. Small advised that he would never knowingly speak to the media and it is his practice to refer all media to the Public Affairs Unit,” the report said.
“Det. Jackson had also forwarded his desk phone to his cell phone and this same night received a voice mail on his cell phone from Mr. Mohamed from Vancity Buzz who was calling about the incident at the mall. He stated that he had already spoken to Det. Small and left his contact details. Det. Jackson did not return the call.”
The report said members of the VPD Public Affairs Unit have spoken with Vancity Buzz editor Farhan Mohamed, who, the report said, stated that Det. Colin Small confirmed the information before Vancity Buzz published the bulletin.
“The Public Affairs Unit reminded Mr. Mohamed that media inquiring about a VPD related story must adhere to established protocols and communicate through the Public Affairs Unit only. Mr. Mohamed advised that he has reminded his staff about these protocols. Of note, Vancity Buzz has followed these protocols in the past and the fact they diverted from those protocols in this instance is suspicious in nature.”
Mohamed did not immediately respond for comment, but theBreaker will update this story and add his comments should he do so.