BY RATTAN MALL
(Photo: Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu, flanked by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver’s Khalsa Diwan Society President Sohan Deo, addresses the media on Thursday. Photo by Chandra Bodalia )
VANCOUVER Police failed miserably in the handling of the Komagata Maru defilement case.
They should have been more upfront about their investigation with the media, especially the South Asian media, right in the beginning and explained EXACTLY WHY they were not recommending charges against the man who urinated on the memorial at Harbour Green Park in Coal Harbour in Vancouver back in December.
If they had informed the media that the man was a severely-addicted mentally ill person who would benefit more from the health system than the justice system and got an apology from him, everyone would have been forgiving.
Unfortunately, Vancouver Police had to be FORCED to come up with the details.
NOBODY in Vancouver police seemed to realize just how SENSITIVE this issue is with the South Asian community that has faced racism time and time again for more than a century in B.C.
Finally, both Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu had to address the media on Thursday to explain the whole investigation.
The irony is that the Komagata Maru incident of 1914 epitomizes that racism – and then we had to see the desecration of the very monument that was to help in the healing process. Also, many South Asians feel that their so-called community leaders weren’t vocal enough over the past few weeks, but were quite willing to get all the publicity.
But Pargan Mattu, who photographed the man who urinated on the memorial, back in December, and has relentlessly pursued the case is the one who deserves the community’s praise and support.
JIM Chu said in a statement on Thursday: “The Vancouver Police have always treated this abhorrent act on the Komagata Maru monument as a serious matter. We know the importance of this monument to the community. I was personally honoured to speak at its unveiling.
“When this matter was reported to us, we assigned our hate crime investigator to the case. We identified the suspect and we were trying to further the investigation but we needed the main witness to provide to us a statement. Through the help of Khlasa Diwan Society President Sohan Deo, this witness agreed to cooperate, and yesterday, he came forward for an interview.
“Based on the interview results, we confirmed that our only option in the justice system was a bylaw ticket for urinating in public. Yesterday afternoon, we located the suspect and he agreed to apologize for his actions.
“I will read his signed apology: “I am sorry for what I did that day at the monument. I didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
“When dealing with the suspect, it appeared even more the case that this person was afflicted with a serious mental disorder. He is an illicit drug user and would fit into the category studied recently in the Downtown Eastside of a severely addicted mentally ill person. This suspect needs the health system, not the justice system.
“We believe that it is not in anyone’s interest to serve this suspect a bylaw ticket. We explained this to several South Asian community leaders last night and they supported this decision.”
Robertson said: “The desecration and vandalism of the monument was disgusting and disgraceful, clearly performed by someone who had no idea what they were doing. The connection to someone with severe mental illness makes it a difficult challenge for us to navigate.”
HOWEVER, the complainant Mattu says the police are not telling the REAL story about their investigation.
He pointed out the following to Asian Journal:
THE incident took place in December 2 and was reported to the Vancouver Police on that day.
Police claimed that the perpetrator was “fairly intoxicated” but the two witnesses stated that there was no intoxication. Police also claimed that the witness did not come in spite their request.
But Mattu notes that he filed a complaint on December 2 and mailed the photos on December 3 to officer “Danna Budde.” Police called him on December 11 but he was busy working so he could not talk for very long. He returned their call back later that day but was not able to get the officer. He called them again on December 12 and left messages. No one returned his calls.
He called again on December 17 and 18 and left messages on both days. He also asked the receptionist why nobody was returning his calls. She told him that ‘maybe his witness is not needed.’
This week police stated, “We identified the suspect and we were trying to further the investigation but we needed the main witness to provide to us a statement.”
But Mattu says he had been waiting for them for one and a half months and they never called him back or emailed him!
Police finally called him on January 15 for an interview and did their press release on January 16. Mattu notes: “That was very quick. Looks like they had it all lined up and the interview was just a formality.”
Regarding the police’s claim on Thursday that “through the help of Khalsa Diwan Society President Sohan Deo, this witness agreed to cooperate, and yesterday, he came forward for an interview,” Mattu notes: “I was cooperating from the beginning and called them so many times.” He also says that Deo “did call me and there was general discussion regarding the incident and not what the police are claiming.”
Mattu also criticizes the community leaders, pointing out: “They were all quiet since December 2, but now they are accepting the apology for the community!”
He also points out that when Deo was asked by the media if the community would accept this apology, he said he did not know. “Then why the hell were they there being a part of the show accepting it all?” he wonders.
* Asian Journal broke the story of the incident in the first week of December on our website and emailed the link to mainstream media to ensure maximum exposure of the appalling act.
* Asian Journal was the first to report that police had decided not to lay charges against the accused. I posted the story on our website on Monday and emailed the link to mainstream media. The 24 Hours newspaper was the first to follow up our story and that led to other media also following up.
* Asian Journal was again the first to report on our website on Wednesday that police had decided to re-investigate the incident and sent the link to mainstream media.
Following the outcry in the South Asian community, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver Police Chief Constable Jim Chu were forced to address the issue on Thursday to an enraged South Asian community.
ON Wednesday (January 15) morning, Pargan Mattu told Asian Journal that Detective Constable Dale Quiring of the Hate Crimes Unit of Vancouver Police told him that police were going to re-investigate the incident.
He said Quiring told him that police would “collect some more information and send it to the Crown.”
Vancouver Police Sgt. Randy Fincham had told Asian Journal on Monday (January 13) in an email: “The young man believed to have been involved in the incident has been identified and spoken too. As a result of the investigation, it was determined that charges would not be laid.”
To my questions: “But why exactly are the charges not being laid? Is he mentally challenged?”, Randy merely replied: “In laying a charge, investigators would need to establish that a criminal offence took place, laying a charge was in the public interest and that there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction. In this case, it was determined that all three criteria had not been established.”
I had phoned and emailed Fincham on December 23 to find out if any charges had been laid against the man, but he told me that because of the holiday season he was not able to get a hold of the investigators.
I pursued the matter this week. When Fincham didn’t return my phone calls, I emailed him again on January 13 (Monday) and he then responded.
AS pressure grew on Vancouver Police and many nasty comments were posted on websites mocking them, Fincham said: “It has been suggested that police could have issued the man a by-law ticket for the incident. This was, in fact, one of the options that was contemplated, but certain underlying facts and circumstances led to the conclusion that a by-law ticket would not be appropriate.”
AS reported in this newspaper last month, a visitor from India and his friend (Mattu) who were visiting the memorial monument were allegedly threatened by the man who they say was very confrontational and attempted to engage in a physical altercation.
He made many remarks and asked: “What are you guys trying to prove?” He reportedly threw a soccer ball at the memorial. Then he urinated on the memorial and was photographed. A police complaint was made.
Asian Journal posted the story on its website www.AsianJournal.ca.
Following media inquiries about this, the Vancouver Park Board issued a statement.
“On behalf of my fellow Commissioners, we are saddened and deeply offended by this disgraceful act,” said Park Board Chair Sarah Blyth. “The monument was created in partnership with the Khalsa Diwan Society to embrace multiculturalism and remind people about the devastating impact that racial intolerance and discrimination have had upon our community.”
Parks staff cleaned the monument.
Vancouver Police first said that their hate crimes investigator was also looking at the file, but later said that they did not believe that this was a hate crime focused on any one particular group and the investigation was closed at this point.
That angered the South Asian community that felt that Vancouver Police were biased.
What is worse, the Vancouver Police spokesperson told the media that the white man was fairly intoxicated – something that the visitor from India and his friend said was not true.
DURING Question Period in the House of Commons last month, Tim Uppal, federal Minister of State for Multiculturalism, said: “This is indeed a disgraceful act, and we are pleased that the Vancouver police are investigating it further. This shameful incident of desecration is very upsetting.”
The Komagata Maru Monument commemorates the 376 Punjabi passengers who were aboard the ship which was turned away upon arriving on Canadian shores in 1914.
“The tragic events of the Komagata Maru were a regrettable chapter in Canada’s history,” added Uppal. “That is why our Conservative Government worked with the Khalsa Diwan Society to build this important monument and why Prime Minister Stephen Harper was the first to officially apologize for what happened to the passengers of the Komagata Maru on behalf of all Canadians.”
In spring 2014, Canada Post will mark the 100th year anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident by issuing a commemorative stamp. The idea and request for a commemorative stamp of the Komagata Maru incident was a result of the efforts of Parm Gill, Member of Parliament for Brampton-Springdale, said Uppal.