Ottawa

'All of us are hurting': Abdirahman Abdi mourned at funeral

The family of an Ottawa man who died following what witnesses have described as a violent arrest remembered him at his funeral as a "kind-hearted-person," and renewed their call for "an open and transparent investigation" into his death.

Ottawa man died after what witnesses described as a violent arrest on Sunday

Family and friends of Abdirahman Abdi carry his casket into the Ottawa Mosque before the funeral Friday. (CBC)

The family of an Ottawa man who died following what witnesses have described as a violent arrest remembered him at his funeral as a "kind-hearted-person," and renewed their call for "an open and transparent investigation" into his death.

Hundreds of people, including many from Ottawa's Somali and Muslim communities, gathered Friday at the Ottawa Mosque to mourn the death of Abdirahman Abdi, who died following his arrest on Sunday morning.

The Special Investigations Unit is probing the death of the 37-year-old Somali-Canadian man who, according to his family, had mental health issues.

What happened 'shouldn't be justified'

Abdirahman Abdi, 37, was a Somali-Canadian whose family moved to Canada eight years ago. He was pronounced dead Monday afternoon after losing vital signs during a confrontation with police on Sunday morning. (Abdi family)

The family's statement, read by Ottawa Imam Sikander Hashmi and their first since Abdi's death Monday, remembered Abdi as "a wonderful son, amazing brother and kind-hearted uncle."

"Abdirahman was always looking out for other people before himself. We cannot recall a moment we've seen him get angry. He was someone who kept to himself a lot. He was shy around women and with people he doesn't know," their statement read.

"He was such a kind-hearted person. What occurred to him that Sunday wasn't fair at all and shouldn't be justified by any means. No human being, especially someone as innocent as him, deserved to pass away like that. No words can explain the depth of our love for him.

"Abdirahman's loss has taken an unimaginable toll on our family, friends, neighbours and all those who knew him through work and school. We all have many questions, but we are trying to be as patient as possible as the investigation is in progress," their statement read.

The family thanked neighbours, witnesses and many in the Ottawa community, including the Ottawa Muslim Association, which sponsored the funeral expense.

"We would also like to thank all the organizations who have stood with the family in calling for an open and transparent investigation into Abdirahman's death. We need answers," they said.

'A heartbreaking time'

Prior to the beginning of the service, a number of community leaders and elected officials spoke about the impact of Abdi's death.

"Ottawa, all of Ottawa, is going through a heartbreaking time," said Ottawa Muslim Association vice-president Ahmed Ibrahim. "The Muslim community is hurting. The Somali community is hurting. All of us are hurting. The tragedy touches so many people and so many communities.

"We all have questions, we all have so many questions, that require answers. And we are all hoping with an open and transparent investigation they will be answered," he said.

Community worker Mohamed Sofa said the Somali community has been deeply affected. 

"As a community, we are traumatized, left to make sense of this senseless violence," said Sofa. "The pain in the community is real and felt deeply by many.

"While the circumstances that have brought us here today are very troubling, the outpouring of love and support for the family is a testament to the beauty of our city Ottawa and Ottawans," he said.

'We are the people of peace'

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, Ottawa Centre MPP and Attorney General Yasir Naqvi and Kitchissippi councillor Jeff Leiper were among the elected officials who spoke before the ceremony began.

Naqvi called for the assembled mourners to come together with the city.

"I think you know that the entire city of Ottawa is mourning with the Abdi family, and this is the moment, this is the time that we demonstrate as a Muslim community we are the people of peace, we are the people of reconciliation, we are the people to come together to work as us and not them," he said.

The service was followed by a private procession to Abdi's burial site.

Incident began at Ottawa coffee shop

Police were called to the Bridgehead coffee shop on the corner of Wellington Street West and Fairmont Avenue on Sunday morning after it was reported a man had groped a woman inside the cafe.

A witness told CBC News that patrons tried to restrain Abdi outside the coffee shop before police arrived. Police followed Abdi on foot to his apartment about 250 metres away on Hilda Street, where he was arrested.

Witnesses said one officer beat Abdi with a baton and another punched him in the head as people watched from the street and the balconies above the apartment building. He was also pepper sprayed.

Abdi was without vital signs when paramedics arrived on the scene. Crews began CPR and he was taken to hospital in critical condition, where he was later pronounced dead.

Hundreds gathered for a memorial Tuesday at Somerset Square Park, where many wondered whether racial prejudice played a role in how police handled his arrest.

Matt Skof, the head of the union representing Ottawa police, says suggestions racism could have played a role are "inappropriate."​