Members of the Somali community want Ottawa police to acknowledge racism

Members of the Somali community will be meeting with the Ottawa Police Services Board Monday afternoon to discuss how they can begin to build a more trusting relationship.

Acknowledging racism exists in the police service will help build trust says advocacy group

When one of his officers made racist comments online, Ottawa police chief Charles Bordeleau responded by saying police officers are human beings with biases. His response, and reluctance to use the word 'racist', drew criticism. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Members of the Somali community will be meeting with the Ottawa Police Services Board Monday afternoon to discuss how they can begin to build a more trusting relationship.

The death of Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi in July 2016 sparked outrage in the east African community and lead to numerous protests in the capital and across the country.

Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi, 37, died after an violent altercation with police in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood in July 2016. (Supplied photo/Idil Mussa)
"It was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Farhia Ahmed with the Justice for Abdirahman Abdi Coalition.

Ahmed, and members of her organization, will make the presentation to OPS board members about the steps police can take to foster a better partnership. One concrete one, Ahmed says, is for police to acknowledge that racism exists in the service.

"This is a reality," said Ahmed. "The barrier that exists to … moving forward is an issue of acknowledgment that these issues exist. If the OPS can acknowledge that there are challenges with racism, in particular, then we can start to address that," said Ahmed.

Farhia Ahmed, a member of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, said police need to acknowledge that racism exists in their service if they hope to build trust with the Somali community. (CBC)
"You cannot address a problem until you've identified it."

Last September, police Chief Charles Bordeleau was criticized for not immediately calling online comments made by one of his officers about the death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook racist. Eventually, the police service labelled the comments as such, but only after receiving weeks of criticism.

"Although we are going there as representatives of Justice for Abdirahman Abdi and the Somali community, the concerns and issues we're bringing forward are not just our own," said Ahmed.

1st time group addressing police board

Ahmed said after Abdi's death her organization met with chief Bordeleau on several occasions, but this is the first time the Justice for Abdirahman Abdi Coalition is addressing the OPS board directly — a request they initiated.

"What we're hoping to do is basically bring the concerns of the community forward," said Ahmed. "We're embarking on the anniversary of Abdirahman's death and certainly we don't want his death to be in vain."

CBC News reached out the Ottawa Police Service, but they declined to comment on the meeting.