'This is a liability': Police should get reinforced glove training, neuroscientist says

CBC News bought a pair of the same reinforced gloves central to criminal charges against an Ottawa police officer in the death of Abdirahman Abdi, and a neuroscientist invited to look at them says he believes the gloves are 'a liability.'

'To me, it is very similar to a weapon. It's like using a pipe to go after somebody'

Neuroscientist analyzes reinforced gloves

6 years ago
Duration 0:27
Matthew Holahan says reinforced gloves can do a lot of damage, and that police should get special training on how and when to use them.

A neuroscience specialist who studied the same gloves that are central to criminal charges against an Ottawa police officer in the death of Abdirahman Abdi believes they're "a liability" for police, and should require special training before officers are allowed to use them.

CBC News bought a pair of the same reinforced gloves and showed them to Matthew Holahan, a neuroscience professor at Carleton University who researches memory, addiction and concussion.

Ottawa police Const. Daniel Montsion is facing charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in the July 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi.

"I think there should be some public concern about the use of these," he said Tuesday in an interview at his office, where he tried on a pair of Oakley Standard Issue assault gloves reinforced with a carbon fibre plate over the knuckles.

"The police are out there to protect us and to serve us, and I think that ... bringing these gloves out may not be in that rationale or that philosophy of protect and serve."

Sources have told CBC that Oakley Standard Issue assault gloves were worn by Const. Daniel Montsion during the confrontation with Abdi last year, and that they're being considered a weapon by Ontario's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

The SIU charged Montsion with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon earlier this month, and as part of his release conditions he's barred from possessing weapons and "any gloves with hardened knuckle plating."

The following week, Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau ordered an internal audit of all gloves issued to officers for on-duty use.

'Very similar to a weapon'

Variations of reinforced gloves are worn by police throughout the province as protection from sharp objects, according to Bruce Chapman, president of the Police Association of Ontario. Some are purchased by police forces, and some by officers themselves.

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services is responsible for deciding what weapons police can use and also sets technical standards for those weapons.

Gloves, including those that are reinforced, are not classified as weapons and therefore don't need to be approved for use.

Holahan said he thinks there's an argument to be made for classifying reinforced gloves as weapons, and believes there's a difference between being struck by a bare fist and a fist protected with carbon fibre knuckle plating. 

The structure of the human hand lessens the impact of a blow, but a carbon fibre plate increases it, Holahan said.

Matthew Holahan, a neuroscience professor at Carleton University, said the raised carbon fibre plate doesn't absorb the impact of a blow the way an unprotected fist would. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

"You have the soft tissue, the muscle, the bone of the human hand — that absorbs a lot of that impact that is going into the skull. That lessens that impactful force," Holahan said.

"Whereas when you have one of those gloves on, it not only gives your hand much more stability ... when that impact comes in it's very directed. All the impact, all the force, all the acceleration is going right to the brain. Whatever the target is is actually experiencing the full force."

As well, Holahan thinks people wearing reinforced gloves would likely punch harder than someone wearing a regular glove or no glove at all, because it doesn't hurt.

"This is the same material that bikes are made from, and other types of strong materials. Yeah, this is a liability. To me, it is very similar to a weapon. It's like using a pipe to go after somebody," he said.

'There should be specialized training'

The Ontario Police College doesn't train officers on how to use gloves, including reinforced gloves, according to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Ottawa police don't have their own training on the gloves either, according to a police source.

Holahan is surprised by the lack of training for reinforced gloves.

"If there is a widespread use, then there should be specialized training. I would imagine they get specialized training on how to use their batons, how to use their weapons," Holahan said.

Abdirahman Abdi, 37, lost vital signs during a confrontation with Ottawa police in Hintonburg in July 2016, and was pronounced dead in hospital the following day. (Abdi family)

Basic training on when and how to use the gloves would help officers make decisions in dynamic situations, he said.

"If they have that base training, they should be able to say, OK, this is when I should be using this glove and this is when I should not be.

"They have to be protected too, there's no doubt about that, but at the same time they have to be aware that when they're protecting themselves they might be producing damage to somebody else, and significant damage," Holahan said.