The Ontario government is asking chiefs of police across the province to follow the lead set by the Ottawa Police Service and audit the use of reinforced gloves by their officers.
Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau ordered an internal audit after a CBC News investigation uncovered that the reinforced gloves worn by the officer charged in the death of Abdirahman Abdi are being considered a weapon by Ontario's police watchdog, the Special Investigation Unit (SIU).
On July 24, 2016, Abdi lost vital signs during a confrontation with Const. Daniel Montsion and another officer as they attempted to arrest him for allegedly groping people inside a coffee shop.
He was pronounced dead in hospital the following day.
Earlier this month, the SIU charged Montsion with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in connection with Abdi's death.
Montsion had been wearing a pair of Oakley Standard Issue "assault gloves", which are central to his assault with a weapon charge, according to sources close to the investigation. The gloves feature carbon-fibre plating in the knuckles and fingers.
Minister to review Ottawa glove audit
Marie-France Lalonde, Ontario's Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, told CBC she will be requesting the results of Bordeleau's audit and would like to see other forces follow suit.
"I think all police services in Ontario should consider undertaking an equipment audit to ensure the 'use of force' guidelines continue to reflect the realities of front-line policing in the province," Lalonde said in a statement.
The gloves do not currently appear under the guidelines' list of approved police-issued weapons.
Prior to Lalonde's statement, ministry spokesman Brent Ross had told CBC that "protective equipment, including gloves, helmets and vests, are not classified as weapons, and therefore do not require the Minister's approval."
The guidelines include a list of sanctioned weapons, including Tasers, batons, and pepper spray. When a weapon appears on that list, it usually results in the creation of special training and protocols around their use by police officers across Ontario.
Right now, police services have neither been providing training nor issuing protocols for the use of "assault" or "tactical" gloves, despite their widespread adoption, according to Bruce Chapman, who represents rank-and-file officers as president of the Police of Association of Ontario.
Chapman said the revelation that the gloves could be considered a weapon in the Abdi investigation has had a ripple effect on forces across the province.
Ontario police watchdog calls for more training
Minister Lalonde's statement comes as the ministry faces pressure to re-examine the glove's classification on its list.
Gerry McNeilly, Ontario's independent police review director, told CBC in a statement that "if [assault gloves] are indeed being used as weapons, then the ministry needs to list them as such and set some provincial standards around them."
The mandate of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director is to provide "effective oversight of public complaints, promote accountability of police services across Ontario and increase public confidence in the complaints system," according to its website.
"I believe all use of force tools and weapons must have appropriate and regular training on their use," McNeilly said in his statement.
"It would be advisable for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to have a close look at the how these gloves are used."
'Sit down and think'
Ian Scott, the former director of the SIU from 2008 to 2013, is also asking the province to reconsider how reinforced gloves are classified.
"Someone has to sit down and think, what do they want the police to use these gloves for?" Scott said.
If gloves are only used to smash glass or during "dynamic entries on the execution of search warrants," then they likely don't qualify as a weapon, he added.
"But if it's anticipated that the government and the ministry intends in certain circumstances that these gloves will be used as weapons, then indeed they ought to be classified as weapons," Scott said.
"And there ought to be training in the area."
Scott said that during his time as SIU director, he never encountered a case involving a pair of gloves causing injury — but perhaps, if their use is now widespread, it's time for a rethink.
Lalonde suggested the audits could indeed result in that second look, and that they will "help inform any future potential provincial policy decisions."
A ministry spokesperson later clarified that the request for audits is not a directive but more of a request, as that "outside of legislation" the minister lacks the authority tell police services how to act.
Considered a weapon by manufacturer
The gloves worn by Montsion feature hard materials — typically carbon fibre around the knuckles and along the fingers — mostly to provide protection against glass or other sharp objects, or to aid with the use of battering rams and other equipment.
According to police sources, the gloves were issued to Montsion when he was a member of the Ottawa Police Service's direct action response team, or DART – an anti-gang squad.
Montsion was assisting patrol officers the day the confrontation with Abdi took place.
His release conditions state that he's prohibited from possessing weapons and "any gloves with hardened knuckle plating."
Oakley, the manufacturer of the gloves, has described them as having a two purposes: protection and combat. A company spokeswoman told CBC last week that the company considers them a weapon.
'We need to modernize police training'
The death of Abdi — a Somali-Canadian with an as-of-yet unspecified mental health problem — has sparked outrage and protests in cities like Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.
In her statement, Lalonde said that officers are "increasingly interacting with vulnerable individuals, often with complex mental health issues."
"That is why we need to modernize police training," Lalonde said. "Police officers need the necessary tools to defuse crisis situations and protect both themselves and their communities."
The minister underlined that a strategy stemming from a review of policing and police oversight agencies will be released later this spring.