Ottawa

Police chief vows to 'fix our house' amid widespread unrest

Ottawa's police chief is reaffirming his commitment to improve relations between the force and the city's racialized communities in the wake George Floyd's death in the United States, and the outrage it has sparked.

Peter Sloly didn't directly mention the 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi in Ottawa

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly issued a public statement Monday in which he addressed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., and the subsequent protests on both sides of the border. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Ottawa's police chief is reaffirming his commitment to improve relations between the force and the city's racialized communities in the wake George Floyd's death in the United States, and the outrage it has sparked.

Floyd, a black man, died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minn., last week, setting off angry protests that quickly spread to cities across the U.S. and around the world. Some of the protesters in Canada focused on the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Toronto woman who fell to her death from an apartment balcony on Wednesday while police were responding to a call there.

"There are so many other people, families, organizations and communities that are impacted by the ripple effects from any such incident. This includes people right here in Ottawa," Sloly said in a video statement released Monday morning. 

Sloly said he's been reaching out to officers and community leaders both here in Ottawa and abroad. He also acknowledged Ottawa's own recent tensions, including the circulation of a meme he has denounced as racist

In his statement, Sloly said Floyd's death and the ensuing wave of public anger, coupled with the still-unfolding pandemic and "the latest series of internal and public trust issues affecting the Ottawa Police Service" have "shaken me as a police professional and as a person.

"We are all rebounding from these blows. But in these times we need to remain inspired to do our best and help every person and every community in Ottawa."

In a separate interview with CBC Ottawa, Sloly said: "We needed to heal as a family. We needed to fix our house."

Abdirahman Abdi lost vital signs during a violent police arrest on July 24, 2016, at the entrance to his Hintonburg apartment building. Sloly did not directly address the incident in his statement Monday. (Abdi family)

Sloly did not directly address the death of Abdirahma Abdi, a black man who died after a violent altercation with Ottawa police outside his Hintonburg apartment building in July 2016. Const. Daniel Montsion was charged with manslaughter, but final arguments in his trial were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sahada Alolo, community co-chair of the Ottawa Police Community Equity Council, said she was "disappointed" Sloly neither mentioned Abdi by name, nor addressed the circumstances his death in his statement Monday.

"We also lost a life here, and I would have liked him to mention it, not to be afraid to mention that we've had that happen here and mention the person's name. Show your condolences to the family," she said. "It has happened here before and it's likely to happen here again. We are not immune to it."

Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly, in an interview with the CBC’s Adrian Harewood, says he’s taking a proactive approach aimed at preventing similar tragedies from happening in Ottawa. 1:08

Alolo said she expects the city's racialized communities will continue to demand improvements around equity, diversity and inclusion.

"It's like we woke up behind the wheel and we are alert and we are driving and, for me, I think the destination is getting clearer and clearer because we have committed community members who are, so to speak, holding the OPS feet to fire." 

Sloly also acknowledged Floyd's death likely won't be the last incident of its kind.

"There will be another tragedy. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. How many of these we can prevent is the question for me. And when they come, how quickly can we turn it from a tragedy into something that helps us to grow and move forward together as a society?"

With files from Adrian Harewood

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