Ottawa

City fires bylaw officer who hit man in park

The City of Ottawa has fired a bylaw officer for using excessive force in dealing with a man in a park who'd been fined for violating COVID-19 restrictions.

Obi Ifedi alleged he was punched in the face after being told to leave a west-end park

Obi Ifedi and his seven-year-old daughter Zoe. Ifedi was struck by an Ottawa bylaw officer in April 2020, just as tighter rules designed to stem the spread of COVID-19 were coming into effect. On Friday, the city announced that officer had been fired. (Supplied by David Anber)

The City of Ottawa has fired a bylaw officer for using excessive force in dealing with a man in a park who'd been fined for violating COVID-19 restrictions.

Obi Ifedi was tackled and punched in the mouth, according to his lawyer, by the officer in Marlene Catterall Park on April 4.

The incident occurred less than three weeks after COVID-19 restrictions on the use of public parks came into effect.

According to a city memo released in June, Ifedi refused to provide identification to the bylaw officer, who then asked police to help. There was a foot chase, and the bylaw officer became involved in a "scuffle."

The findings of the ensuing bylaw and regulatory services investigation, released on Friday, said there was "no dispute" the officer struck Ifedi, and their employment had been "terminated."

David Anber, Ifedi's lawyer, said he and his client take no comfort in the officer losing his job.

He said it's more troubling that the Ottawa police did not lay charges after their investigation, opting instead for a pre-charge diversion program — designed to provide an alternative to punishment for people who commit certain non-violent offences.

"I would've much rather seen this individual keep his job, perhaps with some rehabilitative or other remedial action, but again receive the accountability that anybody else would if they were to have committed an offence like that," Anber said.

Obi Ifedi shows the cut lip he says he suffered after being struck by the now-fired bylaw officer. (Supplied by David Anber)

'Isolated incident'

Anthony Di Monte, the city's general manager of emergency and protective services, called the assault an "isolated incident" in a memo to council and noted there had been "no pattern of this behaviour."

Nevertheless, an "assault against a member of the public in the course of duty is very serious," Di Monte wrote.

The investigation, he said, compared the April 4 incident with existing "use of force" and de-escalation training and found the officer's response excessive.

"Our policies, our procedures and our training programs, I think, were validated as a result of the analysis," Di Monte told reporters Friday afternoon.

"And we continue to look at [those policies and make any improvements that are necessary."

Bylaw officers are trained to use education and de-escalation to enforce city rules, said Anthony Di Monte, general manager of emergency and protective services. He said what happened to Ifedi was an isolated incident. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, whose ward includes Marlene Caterall Park, told CBC it was especially troubling the victim of the incident was a Black man.

She said the incident "created a lot of anger," particularly as the city was adopting new rules to deal with COVID-19.

"We were all just getting used to the COVID restrictions, and this just left us reeling," Kavanagh said. "It hurt our reputation, and I think we need to work to build it back."

After the incident, Mayor Jim Watson and Coun. Jenna Sudds, chair of the community and protective services committee, called for a review of what happened.

Watson said Friday he supported the decision to fire the officer, but declined to comment further, calling it an internal personnel matter.

In a statement, Sudds said the city is committed to continuously reviewing its policies and training to ensure situations are de-escalated.

Still facing fines

Di Monte also said the head of the city's bylaw department will be calling Ifedi on Monday.

While his client would appreciate that, Anber said the $2,010 in fines Ifedi was issued for violating the provincial emergency order still need to be resolved in court.

"You go from receiving a ticket to all of a sudden being physically handled. At the very least, Mr Ifedi wanted to be acknowledged and to receive an apology," Anber said.

Di Monte said the city has no say in the judicial process after any tickets are issued. 

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