Police chief says he respects not-guilty decision in death of Abdirahman Abdi

·4 min read

For the first time since an Ottawa police constable was acquitted of all criminal charges in the death of a Somali-Canadian man who died after a violent arrest, police Chief Peter Sloly addressed the decision saying he and the Ottawa Police Service respects the court's decision.

"We know that no verdict can change a tragedy that happened four years ago when Mr. Abdirahman Abdi lost his life," Sloly said at a Ottawa Police Services Board meeting held over Zoom Monday.

"His death has weighed heavily on his family, the local Somali community and our entire city. It has also deeply affected all members of the Ottawa Police Service, especially the families of Constables Dan[iel] Montsion and Dave Weir, and the officers themselves, along with all other members from the service who were directly involved in that tragic incident."

Last week, Montsion was found not guilty of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in the fatal 2016 arrest.

Abdi, who struggled with mental health issues, was chased by police before being punched several times in the head by Montsion, who arrived on the scene as backup and was wearing reinforced or "plated" gloves.

Abdi later died of cardiac arrest.

"No one can ever accept the loss of life in a situation like this, especially of a vulnerable citizen experiencing a mental health crisis," Sloly continued. "None of us, citizens or police, ever want to find ourselves in a situation like the one that took place."

OPS to rebrand itself

Sloly said the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) will begin to rebrand itself "to better align with community expectations to align with our services values, honour, courage and service, as well as our mandated requirement to deliver community policing, community safety and well-being."

Following the decision, Sloly said he recognizes the calls for change coming from members of the public and that more work needs to be done within the service.

"In accordance with the Police Services Act, we will be conducting an incident, service, equipment and policy review," he said.

Robyn Miller/CBC, Family photo
Robyn Miller/CBC, Family photo

The review also includes the conduct of all OPS members involved in the incident on July 24, 2016.

"That process is already well underway, and we will work to finalize the review as expeditiously as possible."

According to Sloly, the results of the review will be made public through the Ottawa Police Services Board.

Relying on leaders in mental health community

Sloly said the organization is also looking to develop a new mental health strategy to be included as part of the service's upcoming draft budget for 2021. OPS will be participating in and providing resources for the three-year strategy but "will absolutely not be leading that effort."

Justin Tang/Canadian Press
Justin Tang/Canadian Press

He said OPS would rely on leaders in the community, public health and not-for-public sectors.

Deputy police chief Steve Bell said the force wants to identify gaps in the current system.

"So we can look how we co-ordinate and jointly deliver services from the time we take a call in, to the time that we look to get support from our community members," he said.

Review of policies involving use of force

The police board also introduced and carried a motion to review, update and potentially create new board policies surrounding de-escalation, the use of force, non-force options and tactical deployment strategies "including but not limited to dynamic entries."

Ottawa's Black community have also been calling for answers after the death of a 23-year-old man who fell from a window of his family's 12th-floor apartment during a police raid earlier this month.

A video of the incident shows heavily armed Ottawa police officers entering the apartment on the morning of Oct. 7. The SWAT team officers executed a no-knock warrant, also known as a "dynamic entry."

"This is really asking the [Policy and Governance Committee] to look at this whole issue ... to look at our current policies to make sure that they believe they're fulsome enough to address what we have heard expressed by the community," said Coun. Diane Deans, chair of the board.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.