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Kamloops RCMP refutes social media claim that officers shaved head of man after arrest

Volunteer street cleaner Ben James was arrested on May 8, but the story has become unfounded online allegations against Mounties

Ben James, the volunteer street cleaner who can often be seen downtown, has been charged with assault with a weapon and uttering threats stemming from an incident on May 8.

But it is a social media post with unfounded allegations against the Kamloops RCMP that has become the focus of the story.

In an online post this past weekend, which appears to have since been deleted, a Facebook user said James had recently been arrested after some people tried to pick a fight with him.

The Facebook user, citing her conversation with James, then claimed police had shaved his head and called his landlord and had him evicted.

KTW tried to connect with James downtown on Sunday, May 28, but could not find the man known to many for his penchant for cleaning downtown streets as a volunteer.

KTW asked the Kamloops RCMP about the allegations in the social media post, which had been shared widely and which included several dozens comments from people criticizing the local police force.

Cpl. Crystal Evelyn confirmed the arrest, but stated police had no involvement in James’ shorn locks.

“His hair was not cut by the RCMP, nor would this be a normal practice,” Evelyn said.

She said she could not comment on the allegation that police contacted James’ landlord because details of the arrest and location are part of the court proceedings, noting commenting on those could jeopardize the case.

Evelyn confirmed multiple Kamloops RCMP officers were called to the 200-block of Columbia Street on May 8 for a report involving a weapon.

“As part of the investigation, a suspect was arrested and evidence was collected and reviewed as part of the charge recommendation process,” Evelyn said. “The suspect was held in custody for a bail hearing, during which he received a release order that included protective conditions.”

It is believed James was arrested at or near his residence.

While police did confirm they had nothing to do with James’ shaved head and could not comment on the allegation of contacting his landlord, a Kamloops councillor said she has confirmed neither allegation is true.

Dale Bass told KTW she learned police had nothing to do with James’ living situation.

“Social media can be so dangerous. I shared a post about this situation because Ben had been arrested and so many people know him. Of course, it fuelled rumours and anti-police comments,” said Bass, who spent 25 years as a reporter at the London Free Press and another 18 years as a reporter, columnist and associate editor at Kamloops This Week.

“Reporter DNA took over and I asked questions and got the facts, but even explaining what actually happened did not quell the erroneous speculation and anti-police posts,” Bass said.

“Even today, as with way too many days, I have been verifying posts of misinformation on another issue that has grown and is not correct, that has sparked complaints to council. It has nothing to do with us. It is incorrect, but it now has a life of its own. It’s ironic so many do not trust the media, but believe without facts things random people post. It is the worse side of social media.”

The RCMP’s Evelyn also weighed in with some advice for those reading social media posts.

“We continue to remind people to please use caution when viewing social media reports and forming opinions or making assumptions,” Evelyn said. “We encourage the public to always check the source of information they are viewing, to consider that source and where that source’s information may be coming from.”

James will appear in court on Thursday, June 1, at which time details regarding the incident that led to his arrest may be forthcoming.

James has long been the focus of news articles.

He ran for council in the 2008 Kamloops civic election, failing to get elected. In 2014, James launched an unsuccessful mayoral campaign in that year’s municipal election, with the Vancouver Province and Globe and Mail picking up KTW’s story due to his unique reason for running — because he was bored.

And, in December 2013, Bass herself penned a profile of James as he worked to collect discarded needles on the streets of North Kamloops.