*WARNING: This article contains graphic language.*
A Peel Regional Police officer who was recorded telling a Palestinian-Canadian man under arrest that the accused doesn’t understand “the culture of Canada” is now being called racist by the man’s family.
CityNews has obtained audio of the interaction after Const. Bernard Trlaja inadvertently recorded the entire episode on the suspect’s cellphone.
Masood Masad, 25, was arrested on Sunday night and charged with causing a disturbance in relation to a verbal dispute he had at a Mississauga restaurant while working for the online food delivery service DoorDash.
“We’ve had dealings with you so many times that I said, “Forget it. This kid obviously doesn’t understand the rules, the nature and the culture of Canada,'” Trlaja said while driving Masad to 11 Division. “‘OK, he wants to be violent and bring that violence with him, then he’s going to have to learn the way.'”
Masad told CityNews he has never been previously charged by Peel police.
“What’s your problem, buddy? Are you retarded?” Trlaja later asks Masad.
The disturbance charge was later downgraded to mischief and Masad was released from custody several hours later.
His family was stunned when they heard the recording on his phone.
“What (the officer) said was something like … ‘You cannot bring your violence to Canada,” Masad’s father told CityNews.
“That’s racist — absolutely racist — and should not come from anyone, especially a police officer.
“I’ve been here 19 years. My kids came here when they were three and six years old. We spent our lives here. We are extremely happy, but when something like this happens, I don’t understand.”
The following is the entire unedited recording obtained by CityNews. Trlaja can be heard speaking with Masad as the officer drives the accused to 11 Division on Sunday.
*WARNING: The recording contains graphic language.*
In a statement to CityNews, Peel police said Chief Jennifer Evans has since ordered an investigation through the Professional Standards Bureau.
Lawyer Kim Schofield believes Trlaja’s comments crossed the line.
“I think that can be fairly interpreted as a racist statement,” she said. “There’s clearly a reference to ‘where you come from’ and ‘We don’t act like this in Canada,’ and that’s obviously a reference to the fact that these people are not Canadian or not from here.”
Masad believes Trlaja, who has been an officer with Peel regional police since 2002, was suggesting his birthplace breeds violent people.
“I do believe that he was trying to make that insinuation that because you are of that race, that you are some sort of violent individual,” he said.
“I’ve been here since I was six years old. I grew up in Canada. So, for him to say I brought violence over here doesn’t really make any sense.”
What led to the arrest
Masad, who has been working for DoorDash for several months, said he got into an argument Sunday with the owners of a restaurant near Erin Mills Parkway and Britannia Road West because they were more than 20 minutes late with his order. The restaurant disputed Masad’s account, telling CItyNews he was early. Either way, words were exchanged and the owners called police.
Later that day, police tried to call Masad. At some point, they briefly spoke with his mother on the phone at the family home near Highway 401 and Mavis Road. She feared she was being targeted by scammers and told them to come to the house if they were, in fact, the police. She then hung up the phone.
“My mother thought it was a hoax call,” Masad explained. “If my mom had known he was a police officer, 100 per cent she would have given him the utmost respect.”
Masad’s father also defended his wife’s handling of the phone call.
“She received a call from (an) anonymous number and … we received these calls from the CRA scammers twice before,” he said. “So, we have those scams where somebody pretends to be an RCMP officer and if you don’t pay your taxes within two hours, the police will come (to arrest you). So, that’s the background my wife had.
“She told him, ‘I don’t know if you’re a police officer. You’re saying you’re a police officer. You’re calling from an anonymous number. So, I’m going to hang up and if you are really a police officer, you come to the door.’ And that’s it. She hung up.”
Peel police later acknowledged that some people may be wary of taking calls from people claiming to be police, and advised members of the public to call the police station themselves to assure they aren’t being scammed.
“Peel Regional Police officers are trained to identify themselves when dealing with members of the community,” a spokesperson told CityNews. “At the same time, we are seeing an increasing number of telephone scams and if any member of the public is unsure of the identity of someone on the phone, claiming to be an employee of Peel Regional Police, we urge them to call us directly.”
The abrupt telephone interaction seemed to aggravate Trlaja, who referenced it several times while driving Masad to the police station. He even seemed to suggest it prompted his decision to arrest Masad.
At one point Trlaja recreated the phone call, appearing to mock Masad’s mother’s accent.
“‘My name is so and so. I’m a police officer,'” Trlaja recounted.
“(Pretending to be Masad’s mother) ‘I don’t care. Don’t call ever again.’
“OK, f**k you. You’re going to jail, your son. Simple as that.”
Officer inadvertently records interaction
When three officers arrived at the family home, Masad told them he was recording the interaction.
After a brief discussion, the officers told Masad he was being placed under arrest and begin walking him towards a waiting cruiser, where he was patted down. One officer took his phone and appeared to stop the recording, handing it to Trlaja who was driving Masad to 11 Division.
Surveillance video from the Masad home appears to show the officer then re-start the recording, likely thinking he was actually turning it off.
“I think what happened is when he went to put me in the squad car and gave the phone to the police officer who was heard in the video, I think he looked at it and thought it was still recording and pressed the button again, therefore turning it on,” Masad explained.
Trlaja placed the phone beside him in the front seat, allowing for a clear audio account of the interaction that the family is calling racist and unprofessional.
What followed was a barrage of insults from Trlaja, who repeatedly called Masad and his mother “arrogant” and peppered his insults with profanity.
“She’s arrogant buddy, OK? Just arrogant,” Trlaja said. “And now I see where you get your arrogance from. From her.”
“What happened?” Masad asked.
“What happened?” Trlaja said. “Same thing like you, how you are cutting me off, how you are in the right. Now, you’re a mouse with your tail stuck between your a*****e.”
He seemed especially aggravated by the phone call with Masad’s mother.
“She just hung up on me and says, ‘Don’t call ever again. If you want, come to the house.’ She said, ‘Come to the house, but don’t call again,’ I said, ‘OK, I’ll come to the house. But I’m going to take your son with me,’” Trlaja related.
He later asked Masad, “What’s your problem, buddy? Are you retarded?”
“Extremely disturbing on a number of levels”
CityNews played the audio in its entirety to Schofield, who called it “extremely disturbing on a number of levels.”
“I listen to complaints from clients about Peel Regional Police on a daily basis and … usually there’s no tapes,” she said. “And you hear complaints that are similar to this, which is swearing, bravado, racially-motivated speech and just the exercise of street justice — which is just what this is: street justice.
“What should have happened here was maintaining a professionalism, even if someone is rude back to the police. The officers — and I understand they put up with a lot — but that’s their job. That’s what they do, and they cannot react in a way like this because it sheds a bad light on officers everywhere.”
Schofield also took offense to Trlaja’s use of the word “retarded.”
“That reference I think is wrong on so many levels,” she said. “Just this name calling, very juvenile manner of addressing this young man and just his treatment. Someone definitely has to have a look at this.”
Peel police vow to take allegations “very seriously”
On top of the investigation through the Professional Standards Bureau, Peel police told CityNews Masad can file a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) if he feels he’s been treated unjustly.
“Certainly, I would encourage the complainant to come forward and make a complaint … and they will conduct an investigation if they feel it’s warranted,” said Sgt. Matt Bertram.
“We want to be professional at all times,” he added. “We pride ourselves on being professional and treating everyone with respect.”
When asked if an officer can arrest someone for being “arrogant” or disrespectful, Bertram was clear.
“Certainly, no,” he said.
“We are going to base our arrest on an offence that’s committed. It has nothing to do with a person’s actions or, certainly, a family member’s actions.”
Schofield believes Peel police should use this incident to reflect and improve.
“This does not speak well of police training, that’s for sure,” she said.
Masad’s father agreed, but hopes something good can come of the situation.
“I think what happened is good — not only for us, but it’s good for everyone,” he said. “It’s good for the police force. Maybe they have to do some sort of training.”