Posted: Jun 18, 2013 3:24 PM ET
Last Updated: Jun 18, 2013 2:50 PM ET
Outraged Somali-Canadian community members are accusing Toronto police and tactical squads of racial profiling and unnecessary abuse of innocent residents during last week's Project Traveller raids in the city's west end.
"These innocent victims include senior citizens, children, single mothers and youth who were forced to live through the traumatic experience through no fault of their own," Mahad Yusuf, the executive director of Midaynta Community Services, told reporters Tuesday at the Rexdale Community Hub.
The press conference was organized in response to alleged mistreatment and destruction of personal property by law enforcement on June 13, when police and tactical squads stormed an apartment complex on Dixon Road as part of a year-long sting operation targeting guns, gangs and drugs.
The investigation yielded 44 arrests and police said they seized $570,000 in cash, 42 firearms and 175 kilograms of drugs during the raids. They are seeking 10 more suspects.
But Yusuf said that what he heard about unwitting community members being allegedly roughed up were "shocking." He claimed that the Somali community was being unfairly targeted "due to the allegations levied against Mayor Rob Ford."
Mother of man arrested claims mistreatment
Ford has been linked in media reports to a high-rise in the area, at 320 Dixon Rd. An apartment on the 17th floor was identified in reports two weeks before the raid as a possible location where a purported video of the mayor smoking crack cocaine might be stashed. CBC News has not viewed the video and cannot verify its authenticity.
The mayor has denied the video's existence. Ford has also said that he does not use crack cocaine and also that he is not addicted to it.
Police have released few details about evidence gathered in the raids. They maintain the aim was to combat drugs, gangs and violence.
Yusuf said he feels the Somali-Canadian community is being used as a scapegoat.
"The African-Canadian community condemns in the strongest manner the racial profiling of the entire Somali community and call for Chief Blair and senior officials of the TPS [Toronto Police Service] to be held accountable for this unwarranted treatment," he said.
Among the more disturbing accounts, as told by another community member, was one from 64-year-old Saeda Hersi, who said she was kicked in the face by an officer who looked like a soldier.
Hersi's son, 29-year-old Siyadin Abdi, was arrested on weapons charges as part of the raids, but Hersi feels that she and her elderly mother were treated unnecessarily harshly.
Fosia Duale, who grew up at 330 Dixon Rd., read a statement describing the story on Hersi's behalf.
Grandma, 96, allegedly injured during commotion
Hersi had just finished her morning prayers in her unit shortly after 3 a.m. and was returning to bed when she was jolted by what sounded "like loud, repetitive thunder." She said she called for her daughter, believing she was hearing gunshots, but that a tactical officer crashed into the home, pinned her to the ground and secured her wrists with rubber handcuffs.
"My lower body was exposed and I begged him to cover me. I was embarrassed to be in a naked state," Duale read, quoting from Hersi's prepared remarks. "I wasn't given the dignity to cover myself, so I continued to beg: 'Please, I am Muslim, I am Muslim.'"
She was more upset, she said, when she saw that her 96-year-old mother, Fadumo Hersi, was bleeding after having tumbled from her bed during the commotion. An officer had attempted to handcuff her but later decided it was unnecessary. Hersi's mother has been hospitalized for injuries to her head, arms and legs, she said.
Mohammed Jama, a youth outreach worker who lives at the same address, said the massive Project Traveller raids robbed some community members of their sense of security.
"Although we are one of those hyphenated Canadians, we are Canadians nonetheless, human beings first," Jama said.
Mark Pugash, the director of corporate communications for Toronto police, said that Project Traveller targeted individuals that investigators believe have committed serious crimes.
He said the community should be pointing a finger at the individuals participating in a criminal lifestyle.
"There are people who seem to think that if thugs move in with their grandparents that they somehow have sanctuary, that it’s like a church or a foreign embassy," he told CBC News in an interview on Tuesday.
But Pugash said "the people who are putting everyone at risk are the people that we've taken out of the community" through the efforts of Project Traveller.
Project Traveller involved dozens of raids last Thursday across the GTA and in Windsor. One man arrested lives in Detroit.
According to police, a street gang known as the Dixon City Bloods, or Dixon Goonies, had links to areas surrounding Toronto, as well as in other parts of the province and in Alberta.