Why was Umar Zameer tried for murder? Observers raise questions about prosecution

TORONTO — Legal observers say prosecutors need to explain why a man was tried for murder in the death of a Toronto police officer when the evidence did not support that charge.

Umar Zameer was found not guilty Sunday in the death of Det. Const. Jeffrey Northrup, who died on July 2, 2021, after he was hit by a vehicle in an underground parking garage at Toronto City Hall.

Zameer had pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

Alison Craig, a defence lawyer based in Toronto, says the case would "likely have proceeded very differently" had the deceased not been a police officer.

She says there should be an inquiry to investigate why the case was prosecuted as a murder when the evidence from the Crown's own expert contradicted that narrative.

Daniel Brown, a defence lawyer and former president of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, says the case appeared to be a "political prosecution," noting several politicians – including Ontario Premier Doug Ford – publicly condemned Zameer before the case even went to trial.

"It created a false narrative about what happened in this case," Brown said. "The premier of Ontario was putting his thumb on the scales of justice and infecting the public's views about how they should view this man."

When Zameer was released on bail in the fall of 2021, Ford expressed his disapproval on X, calling the decision "completely unacceptable." He initially described Zameer as "the person responsible for this heinous crime," but later changed it to "the person charged."

Then-Toronto mayor John Tory and Brampton's mayor also denounced the decision.

At the time, the reasons for the ruling could not be publicly disclosed due to a publication ban, but the ban has lifted now that the trial is complete. In her decision, the bail judge found, among other things, that the Crown had a "weak" case for murder.

Ford's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. Ontario's attorney general's office also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brown said the fact that the trial judge, Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy, apologized to Zameer after the jury delivered its verdict Sunday is "unusual" and significant.

“It’s highly rare and it felt that she was expressing the public’s collective feeling about this case,” Brown said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2024.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press