Abdi supporters angry over police officer's trial delay
Trial of Const. Daniel Montsion scheduled to start in February 2019
Supporters and relatives of Abdirahman Abdi, who lost vital signs during what witnesses called a violent arrest in 2016, call the distant trial date for the officer charged a failure of the justice system and proof that proposed changes to clear the backlog of cases aren't working.
The 12-week trial for Const. Daniel Montsion is scheduled to start in February 2019, nearly three years after Abdi's death.
Montsion, who was a gang suppression officer, is charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon (reinforced "assault" gloves Montsion was wearing during the arrest).
He is currently suspended with pay.
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"How is it that our justice system is failing us to this degree?" asks Dahabo Ahmed Omer, co-founder of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, who was in the courtroom when Montsion's trial date was announced.
'It shouldn't take this long'
To ensure fairness, Montsion's trial will be argued in front of a judge from out of town. A Crown attorney from Toronto is prosecuting the case.
The earliest available date for the trial provided by the Ontario Court of Justice in Ottawa was September 2018, but the date was pushed back to 2019 because of conflicts in the defence lawyer's schedule.
"For a case as monumental as this, the magnitude of this case and the fact that it involved a public servant and a civilian, it shouldn't take this long."
The Abdi coalition's frustration is further compounded by the perception that Montsion has received preferential treatment from the start, Omer said.
It took the Special Investigations Unit eight months to lay charges, and when it came time to be arraigned in court on his charges, Montsion was a no-show at his bail hearing.
Comparisons to Toronto case
Montsion's treatment varies drastically from the case of Toronto police officer Const. James Forcillo, who is currently appealing his conviction on attempted murder in the 2013 shooting death of teenager Sammy Yatim. SIU investigators took less than a month to charge Forcillo, and the constable spent a night in jail after being initially charged with second-degree murder. He was released at a bail hearing after posting $500,000 bond.
Forcillo opted for a preliminary hearing and his case went to trial about 26 months after Yatim's death.
Monstion waived his preliminary hearing, but his case won't make it to trial until 31 months after Abdi's death.
Lawrence Greenspon, a defence lawyer representing Abdi's family, said Montsion's trial delay is evidence that eliminating preliminary trials won't speed up the wheels of justice, nor will hiring more judges and Crown prosecutors clear the backlogs in the court system.
"While the system is burning the ministers of justice are fiddling around with solutions that are not solutions," said Greenspon. "We need a whole new strategy."
'An awful long time for a bereaved family to wait'
Justice ministers should focus on resolving cases without having to go to trial, he said. Greenspon also wants to see mandatory minimum sentences eliminated, funding increased for collaborative justice measures and Crowns forced to disclose evidence earlier in the bail process.
In recent months the Ontario government has appointed new judges, hired more prosecutors, and is making some changes to the bail system, but it appears not to have helped in this case.
Greenspon watched the last moments of Abdi's life with the victim's parents on a video captured by a surveillance camera at the apartment entrance where Abdi was pepper sprayed, beaten with batons and punched.
He knows the distant trial date will only amplify the family's pain.
"It's an awful long time for a bereaved family to wait for a criminal process to take place, to wait for a process that they hope will get them some answers to their questions."