Ottawa

Thousands of sensitive files unwittingly made public at Montsion trial

The property manager of the apartment where Abdirahman Abdi died in 2016 unwittingly handed over thousands of potentially sensitive documents contained on a USB key to Ontario's police watchdog, the manslaughter trial of Const. Daniel Montsion heard this week.

USB key contained hidden folder with housing agency documents — and a popular movie

Abdirahman Abdi died in 2016 after he was violently arrested outside his community housing building on Hilda Street. (Google Maps )

Thousands of potentially personal and sensitive files belonging to an Ottawa community housing agency were unwittingly released to Ontario's police watchdog in 2016 and have been sitting in court as an unsealed exhibit for weeks. 

News of the breach was revealed this week during the manslaughter trial of Const. Daniel Montsion, who is charged in the death of Abdirahman Abdi — a tenant of OCISO Non-Profit Housing's building at 55 Hilda St.

The agency, now known as Unity Housing, provides affordable housing to hundreds of multicultural families in Ottawa. 

Justice Robert Kelly then issued an order to have the USB key sealed, at the request of the current property manager, Carla Shipley.

"There is a lot of potentially very confidential and sensitive information that is totally irrelevant to any of the issues in this trial," Kelly said. 

Public didn't access data, company says

After this story was published, CBC News reached out to Unity Housing for comment. The company said it was unaware of the breach.

"Unity Housing was not aware that any tenant information was inadvertently included on the USB drive that was provided to police, or that the information was made available to the public, until it was notified by the CBC today," it said in an email.

In its statement, the company said it's been assured the private information was only viewed by a handful of people. 

"Unity has also received confirmation from the SIU that no member of the public in fact accessed the tenant information, other than defence counsel in this trial, and that none of the data was released in court or to the public."

Contained documents, CV — even a movie

Montsion has been charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. He has pleaded not guilty to all three charges.

The origin of the breach can be traced to 2016, when property manager Jean-Michel Bedard was tasked with creating a copy of the surveillance video that showed Abdi's violent arrest at the hands of Montsion and another officer.

Bedard testified that given the seriousness of the situation, he likely would have used a new or formatted USB key to transfer the video footage to police.

But when Montsion's lawyer Solomon Friedman opened the USB key in court Tuesday, he found a hidden directory with 6,385 files — including housing agency documents, Bedard's own cover letter and resumé, and a copy of the movie Gone Girl.

The news came as a surprise to Bedard.

Since the USB and its files were entered as an exhibit in Montsion's trial in February, for the past few weeks members of the public could have asked permission to view the thumb drive's content.

At least two Special Investigations Unit [SIU] investigators also copied the contents to their own laptops, though it's unclear if they copied the hidden files or even knew about them.

The thumb drive was also disclosed to the office of Montsion's legal team and the Crown prosecutor's office.

A still image taken from the surveillance video at 55 Hilda St. on the day of Abdi's violent arrest by two Ottawa police officers on July 24, 2016. (Ontario Criminal Court)

Property manager never trained

As for the video itself, Bedard said that while his memory of creating it was shaky, the system was easy to use and he didn't recall having any issues.

The handling of the footage is a key part of Montsion's defence case.

His lawyers aim to prove the surveillance video from the building was mishandled by the property manager and the SIU from the very beginning, robbing Montsion of the chance to fairly defend himself.

The Crown's video expert suggested in his report that the footage was corrupted when it was copied from the surveillance system.

Bedard said he mostly taught himself how to use the system and export video.

"It would have been inputting the password and a few clicks. That would have been the extent of the training," he told the court.