Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Muslim leaders briefed in meeting with RCMP

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OTTAWA -- The first email went out around 11:30 a.m. on Monday, catching some 22 leaders in Canada's Muslim community by surprise.

The RCMP, they were informed, would like them to clear their schedules for an afternoon meeting.

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It wasn't a cold call; many of the groups had long-standing ties with Canadian security agencies as part of ongoing outreach on the part of police with Muslim organizations.

Still, those who received the email said it was a bit unnerving, more so when a second message came in an hour later giving the time and location of the sit-down meeting: 2:30 p.m. at RCMP offices in Toronto.

A public press conference had been scheduled for an hour later.

"I was pretty certain it was something big," said Muhammad Robert Heft, who runs an organization that provides outreach to Islamic converts.

It wasn't the first time Muslim leaders had been so summoned by the police; ahead of the arrests in the Toronto 18 case in 2006, a similar gathering had been convened.

As Heft and others crowded into the boardroom Monday, the buzz was around wondering exactly what the police were about to announce.

"People knew that this meeting could only mean there were arrests," said Hussein Hamdani, a Hamilton, Ont., lawyer and longtime advocate in the Muslim community.

"But there was fear and stress about what the arrests would be."

Police led off the meeting thanking the Muslim community for their work before sombrely informing them two men had been arrested for plotting to attack a Via Rail passenger train.

"We understood and we were happy that the RCMP did their due diligence and was able to stop anything from happening, first and foremost," Heft said.

"And the mood there was what will be the backlash, how are we going to handle the media and the press reports from looking like they are stereotypically demonizing Muslims, when it was a tip from our leadership that prompted the arrest."

Those in the room represented all facets of Canada's Islamic community, from mosques to secular organizations.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 23, 2013 A3

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