Police set out to 'demystify' court process as Montsion trial continues
Information session intended to shine a light on justice system's intricacies
With the manslaughter trial of Const. Daniel Montsion set to resume Monday, Ottawa police are trying to make sure both those following the proceedings and the community as a whole know how the court process works.
The force's community engagement team, working alongside the diversity and race relations section, held a public information session Saturday.
Assistant Crown attorney Mark Moors gave general information about how court operates, the rules surrounding evidence disclosure and the roles of prosecutors and the defence.
"I think that being educated about a court process is definitely something that really helps the community to know how to approach a circumstance like this," said special Const. Floyd Hutchinson, who has attended almost every day of the Montsion trial as a member of the community relations team.
Hutchinson said many people watching the proceedings are coming face-to-face with the intricacies of the justice system for the first time — and it's left some people confused.
"Particularly in this case, there are some very difficult nomenclatures and terminologies that people need to understand to get the full impact of what's happening," he said.
Video arguments left people confused
Montsion has been charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in the 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi.
He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Ketcia Peters, the former community co-chair of the Ottawa Police Community Equity Council, said citizens watching the Montsion trial unfold have already been confronted by sometimes-confusing legal concepts.
For instance, during the trial last month, court heard that there were several videos that showed Abdi's arrest — but that none of them may ever be submitted as official evidence.
"The community members who were there that day were really questioning the reason why," she said.
"There's some administrative decisions that are made sometimes that are not always clear for community members. So it's important for us to demystify these things."
There are at least seven versions of a security camera video showing Abdi's interaction with police, but no two versions are identical in key metrics like speed, runtime or resolution.
Given the differences in the versions, Montsion's lawyers have argued that all versions should be deemed inadmissible.
'Helps them to understand'
On Saturday, Moors outlined the roles of prosecutors, defence lawyers, judges and juries. He also touched on several procedural matters, including rules around evidence disclosure and witness testimony.
"I think the more people understand about [the justice system] and how it works, the better off we all are," Moors said.
"It helps them to understand, when they hear about court cases, what exactly is going on — and maybe put things in context."
They need to feel they can trust us, and we need to work hard to achieve that trust.- Const. Floyd Hutchinson
The session included a chance to ask specific questions about what happens in a courtroom. Several people asked about evidence disclosure, the role of a judge, and trauma-informed procedures for witnesses.
Hutchinson said the session is one of many initiatives that will hopefully foster new trust between the public and police, especially given the nature of the ongoing trial.
"People are trying to get justice, they're trying to deal with a very difficult circumstance that impacts the community," he said.
"They need to feel they can trust us, and we need to work hard to achieve that trust."