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Men whose photos were published by Vancouver media feared public attacks

Mohammed Kareem, Salahuddin Sharaz, 14, and dad Mohammed Sharaz are shown in this handout image in Vancouver on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. The trio were visiting Vancouver from Manchester, England, for medical treatment when surveillance images of them taking photos of a mall were published by Vancity Buzz.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Salim Jiwa
January 17, 2016 - 8:33 AM

VANCOUVER - Two men and a teenager labelled "suspicious" because they were taking photos of a Vancouver mall said they feared being attacked on the street after local media published their images.

Mohammed Sharaz is visiting from Manchester, England, so that his 14-year-old son and friend can receive specialized treatment for visual disabilities. The two take lots of photos in order to zoom in later and see the sights more clearly, he said.

"My son is registered blind, and now when he goes back to school and somebody looks at this picture, his face is clear as day. They're going to pick on him and say, 'Oh, this is you,'" Sharaz said on Saturday.

"It's going to be very difficult for him to get on with the rest of his life. That's the only thing I'm concerned about."

The incident began Thursday evening after Vancity Buzz, a local news and culture website, published an article saying that police were looking to speak with three men after they were spotted taking photos of entrances and exits at Pacific Centre mall. The website said it obtained an internal police memo.

The article included surveillance photos of the trio without blurring their faces and described them as "Middle Eastern," as did the memo. The images quickly went viral.

Sharaz said he saw the photos on Friday morning and called police several times before they agreed to visit them at the offices of the doctor that is treating his son and friend.

"I was hoping to do a press conference with a police chief, because I thought that's how it works," said Sharaz with a chuckle. "I thought, I'll sit next to him, and say 'Look, mistaken identity,' and everyone's assured there's no issue."

Instead, police sent out a news release later Friday that said they had spoken with the men, who had a "logical explanation" for taking photos and their actions were "completely innocent."

"Just saying it's a 'logical explanation,' it leaves it open to questioning," said Sharaz, though he added he doesn't blame police.

"I'm just blaming the news — the people who broadcast our pictures without blurring our faces."

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer has said the internal memo, which labelled the men "suspicious" and included the surveillance photos, was never intended to be public.

Palmer said the description of the men as "Middle Eastern" was not racial profiling, and that details on race are always included in these kinds of memos between police forces.

Vancity Buzz editor in chief Farhan Mohamed said on Friday, shortly before police cleared the men, that the outlet published the story because it was in the public interest.

He later said in a statement that he welcomed the news that the men had been located and their actions deemed innocent.

Mohamed tweeted at Sharaz on Saturday saying that he would love to sit down with him.

Sharaz said that even after being cleared by police, the trio feared leaving the apartment where they are staying because of concerns that they might be attacked.

"I didn't want to risk taking them out because we travel by public transport everywhere," he said. "I'm unable to protect these guys if something happened."

His son, Salahuddin Sharaz, suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease that causes severe vision impairment, and is partially deaf. He and 34-year-old Mohammed Kareem have been receiving treatment from Dr. Weidong Yu at the Wellspring Clinic for Holistic Medicine.

Sharaz said that the first time he visited Vancouver in August, he told friends that Canadians were wonderful and didn't judge him based on his skin colour.

"My opinion hasn't changed," he said. "There's a very small number of terrorists that have given Muslims a bad name. I don't want one person or one media leak to say the whole of Vancouver, the whole of Canada is bad."

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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