Ottawa

Quick release of officer accused in Abdirahman Abdi's death raises eyebrows

Const. Daniel Montsion's release from police station before bail hearing a rare move, lawyers say

Ottawa police Const. Daniel Montsion charged manslaughter Abdirahman Abdi July 24 2016

Ottawa police Const. Daniel Montsion is facing charges including manslaughter in the July 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi. (Still from YouTube video)

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Courtroom 6 at the Ottawa courthouse is reserved for bail hearings, and on Monday afternoon the docket included people accused of assault, sexual touching and breach of bail conditions. 

Const. Daniel Montsion's name was on that list, too: the Ottawa police officer was scheduled to make his first court appearance on charges including manslaughter in the death of Abdirahman Abdi, a charge more serious than any other being dealt with that day. 

But Montsion was a no-show.

Justice of the Peace Louisette Girault asked the court clerk where Montsion was, and after several phone calls, Girault was informed that the suspended officer was neither in the holding cells in the bowels of the courthouse, nor in the cells of the Kanata OPP station, where he had turned himself in earlier that day.

Instead, Girault learned, Montsion must have been released directly from the station.

His quick release raises the question: Did Montsion receive special treatment because he's a police officer? 

'A real head-scratcher'

Doug Baum, a criminal lawyer with Addelman Baum Gilbert, said in his 20-plus years in the profession he has never seen someone facing such a serious charge released before appearing for a bail hearing. Baum called it "a real head-scratcher."

Baum said even if the Crown decides against contesting someone's release because they don't feel the accused poses a flight risk or danger to society, the accused will normally appear in court anyway, usually by video link.

'It's relatively unheard of for someone on a homicide charge to not have to appear in court within 24 hours of their charge.' - Leo Russomanno, criminal lawyer

If the Crown decides not to show cause why the accused should be held in jail, the accused is then released from the courthouse.

In a high-profile case, that could then involve running a gauntlet of reporters and cameras outside.

Criminal lawyer Leo Russomanno agreed it's rare for someone facing a charge on the magnitude of manslaughter to avoid that process altogether.

"It's relatively unheard of for someone on a homicide charge to not have to appear in court within 24 hours of their charge," Russomanno said.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General said in an email that in this instance, Montsion was released out of the Kanata OPP by an SIU officer.

"The Criminal Code authorizes the release of a person who has been charged with certain criminal offences, from the police station by the officer-in-charge on an undertaking with conditions. That was the procedure followed in this instance," the ministry said.

Police get 'different treatment'

Baum said because of the nature of their jobs, police do receive different treatment under the law.

"A police officer, by their very nature of being a police officer, is [deemed by the court to be] of 'previously good character,' which some people before the court system are not," said Baum.

For that reason, it's usually relatively easy for a police officer to get out on bail. 

Officers enjoy other advantages under the law, Baum said: "With a death or serious injury, police are allowed to use force much more than the average citizen. They have certain protections under the Criminal Code that no other citizen has."

Montsion's first court appearance is now scheduled for March 29. 

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