Mending relations still a goal 2 years after Abdirahman Abdi's death

Two years after Abdirahman Abdi's death following a violent altercation with police, the Somali community and Ottawa police continue to focus on mending relations.

Justice for Abdirahman disappointed that police oversight reforms were abandoned by new Ontario government

Abdirahman Abdi died after Ottawa police tried to arrest him two years ago. (CBC)

It has been two years since the death of Abdirahman Abdi, and mending relations continues to be a focal point for Ottawa's Somali community and the police.

Abdi, a 37-year-old man, lost vital signs during a violent altercation with police outside the entrance of his apartment building at 55 Hilda St. in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood on July 24, 2016.

He was officially pronounced dead in hospital the following day.

Const. Daniel Montsion is scheduled to face trial on charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in Abdi's death starting in February.

"It opened a lot of people's eyes to see this happen here," said Ifrah Yusuf, a friend of Abdi's family.

"People don't think that can happen here in our backyard."

Coalition continues work

The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition formed in the days after Abdi's death to demand greater transparency from police, more support for people with mental health needs and to challenge racial inequality.

Since its formation, the coalition has hosted a community conference on racism and justice and pushed for an independent third-party audit into the diversity of the Ottawa police force.

"Hopefully that pressure we applied does make a difference in trying to improve police relations," said Yusuf, who is a member of the coalition.

The group also lobbied for certain amendments to the Ontario Special Investigations Act — an act that newly elected Premier Doug Ford stopped from coming into effect.

Yusuf called the move disappointing. 

Police outreach

After Abdi's death, Ottawa police put together an outreach group to engage with members of Ottawa's Somali community.

The outreach team spoke to more than 1,000 residents in groups and individually, and used the feedback to build an action plan for what they call "bias-neutral policing."

The coalition was influential in building the action plan, said Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau.

"We continue to work with that coalition, continue to build relationships of trust between the police service and the community, and with our multi-year action plan on dealing with some of the issues that they've identified," he said.

Recently the police relaunched a new community equity council and are recruiting people who reflect the city's diversity.

'Lasting legacy'

The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition is hosting a gathering outside of Abdi's apartment on Tuesday night.

They plan to make an announcement that Yusuf said will preserve Abdi's memory.

"We've done this [gathering] last year, I don't see this — at least for me — being an annual event anymore, but hopefully with this announcement we will be able to leave a lasting legacy."

The gathering will begin at 7 p.m.

With files from Jessa Runciman and Idil Mussa