Ottawa

Rallies, protests, campaigns taking place across Canada, 1 month after Abdirahman Abdi's death

Rallies are being held across the country tonight to mark one month since the fatal encounter between Ottawa police and Abdirahman Abdi.

Somali-Canadian man was pronounced dead in hospital a day after altercation with police

Vanessa Dorimain, a member of the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, says Canada isn't exempt from anti-black racism. (CBC)

About 200 people gathered at Ottawa police headquarters tonight — one of several rallies taking place across Canada to mark one month since the fatal encounter between Ottawa police and Abdirahman Abdi.

The events are being organized by Black Lives Matter and other anti-racism organizations. 

Abdi lost vital signs during an arrest involving two officers, who had been called to respond to a man groping and harassing people inside a coffee shop in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood on the morning of Sunday, July 24. Witnesses have described the altercation as violent.

The 37-year-old Somali-Canadian man with mental health issues was pronounced dead in hospital Monday afternoon.

The Ottawa Police Service tweeted earlier in the day that their Elgin Street headquarters, normally open until 9 p.m., would be closed for the evening while the demonstration took place.

People held placards and chanted slogans during the two-hour rally, with some in attendance voicing very clear frustration at how the Ottawa police handled the arrest.

Others, however, urged for calm and for both the police and the city's Somali-Canadian community to work together to improve their relationship.

"I think that when we think about Black Lives Matter and incidents of police violence, we think about the United States a lot and we don't think that this happens here," said Vanessa Dorimain, a member of the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, which organized the rally.

"I think we wanted to mark the one-month anniversary of Abdirahman Abdi's death … to be able to explain to everyone that Canada is not outside of this. We are not better than that."

Abdirahman Abdi, 37, was a Somali-Canadian with mental health issues whose family moved to Canada eight years ago. (Abdi family)

'Canada is not outside of this'

In Toronto, the Black Lives Matter protest and rally at the headquarters of Ontario's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, began Tuesday morning, with another expected at 7 p.m. ET.

At tonight's event in Ottawa, members of Abdi's family, as well as healers, will be attending, Dorimain told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Wednesday.

"We're just looking to tell the community about Ottawa's racist history, but at the same time try to create a very healing, loving space for those who need it," she said.

And in keeping with previous events, the group behind the rally have a list of demands, including that charges be laid against the two officers involved in the confrontation, that the SIU should publicly release its full report into Abdi's death, and that any and all race-based data collected by the SIU should also be publicly released.

Dorimain isn't confident the demands will be addressed.

"I am going to say that I'm not sure if this will happen tonight, but if it does not — if we don't get our demands met tonight or next week — this is something that we'll be pushing for for a very long time."

Events in Edmonton, Winnipeg, elsewhere

The events being held in other cities are:

  • Toronto: A rally at Special Investigations Unit headquarters at 7 p.m. ET.
  • Hamilton, Ont.: A rally and protest at the attorney general's office at 7 p.m. ET.
  • Kitchener, Ont.: A rally and march at Kitchener City Hall at 7 p.m. ET.
  • Vancouver: An all-day social media/online campaign.
  • Edmonton: A letter-writing session in support of Abdi's family, being held in Centennial Plaza at 7 p.m. MT.
  • Winnipeg: A rally and protest at Winnipeg Police Department headquarters at 7 p.m. CT.