Ottawa

Police chief, Ontario's AG meet with community-police group about Abdirahman Abdi's death

The Community and Police Action Committee held a special meeting Tuesday evening with Ottawa's police chief and Ontario's attorney general to discuss concerns arising from the death of Abdirahman Abdi after what witnesses describe as a violent arrest last month.
Abdirahman Abdi, 37, was a Somali-Canadian with mental health issues whose family moved to Canada eight years ago. He was pronounced dead last month afternoon after losing vital signs during a confrontation with police. (Abdi family)

A community advisory group made up of police and representatives of marginalized communities held a special meeting Tuesday evening with Ottawa's police chief and Ontario's attorney general, to discuss concerns arising from the death of Abdirahman Abdi after what witnesses describe as a violent arrest last month.

Abdi, a 37-year-old Somali-Canadian with mental health issues, died on July 25, one day after his arrest.

Abdi was arrested by Ottawa police officers Const. Dave Weir and Const. Daniel Montsion following reports of a man groping people inside a coffee shop in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood.

Since then, questions have been raised by many about whether racism could have played a role.

Ottawa police can't comment directly, saying they must wait for the results of an ongoing investigation by Ontario's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit.

The head of the union representing Ottawa police officers, meanwhile, calls any such suggestion "inappropriate."

SIU investigation must be completed  

Awad Loubani, a member of the Community and Police Action Committee who represents Ottawa's Arab communities, said in an interview after the meeting that several questions and concerns were raised, including whether the officers could have used excessive force during the arrest, and about what information the public will get, if any, about the SIU's investigation once it's finished.

Attorney general and Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi was clear he'll only receive the SIU's report if it determines the actions of the officers weren't criminal in nature, Loubani recalled of the meeting.

And he said that while they discussed race issues, they can't get answers on whether they played a role during the arrest at this time.

'Forces everybody to wait'

"We raised it as a possibility and we asked for it to be considered, and the answer is, we will only know if it is or is not based only on the SIU investigation," Loubani said.

"Yes, we raised it as a concern, but we cannot say 'You must do this' after the explanation that was given by minister Yasir Naqvi and the chief about the SIU process. And that sort of forces everybody to wait until after the SIU finishes their investigation."

Asked about the SIU being made up of many former police officers, Loubani said the group was told that part of the SIU's mandate is being reviewed as part of the review into the Ontario Police Act.

"We raised the concern about the SIU being [made up of former] police officers, and the answer was that the SIU is an oversight body, it's separate, and part of their mandate is being reviewed with this Ontario Police Act review," he said.

Other issues raised at the meeting included the reduction of community police officers and mental health training for Ottawa police, as well as what can be learned to prevent similar deaths in the future.