Muslims call for investigation of death of Somali-Canadian man in Ottawa

Muslims call for investigation of death of Somali-Canadian man in Ottawa

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a prominent civil liberties & advocacy organization, says a thorough investigation is required into the alleged beating and subsequent death of an Ottawa-area Somali-Canadian man following an altercation with police.

Local police were responding to complaints involving the man at a coffee shop in Ottawa’s downtown. Abdirahman Abdi, a 37-year-old resident who suffered from mental illness, was chased to his apartment building where he was allegedly pepper sprayed and beaten with batons. Part of the incident was captured on video by witnesses.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), an independent civilian oversight body, has launched an investigation.

“This is a heartbreaking loss and our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Abdi’s family at this difficult time,” said NCCM Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee. “Many members of the Ottawa Muslim and Somali communities have serious concerns about how this tragic incident unfolded, including whether prejudice had something to do with Mr. Abdi’s treatment.

“It is critical that a full and transparent investigation be swiftly conducted so that Mr. Abdi’s family, and the wider community, get clear answers.

“The protection and preservation of human rights and dignity, regardless of skin colour, religious belief, or any other characteristic, are integral to our collective and individual sense of safety and inclusion. We welcome the Ottawa Police Service’s pledge to engage the neighbourhood’s community members following this tragedy. Trust will need to be restored,” said Gardee.

The Canadian Association of Somali Lawyers, a national organization of about 20 Somali-Canadian lawyers from across the country, said the incident is part of a larger pattern.

“Too often, police officers do not de-escalate or take appropriate care when dealing with African-Canadians, let alone African-Canadians with disabilities or in mental distress,” said Billeh Hamud, President of the Canadian Association of Somali Lawyers, in a statement late Tuesday.

The group also called on the Ontario government to bring greater transparency to the SIU and to mandate all police officers in the province wear body cameras.

“We condemn the brutality of the police — 100 per cent condemn — but don’t put the colour of the victim (first),”  said Abdourahman Kahin who leads a group called Muslim Presence,

“Before he was black, he was a human being. He was a human being who was treated inhumanly,” said Kahin, who used to live in the same building as the Abdi family, knows one of his brothers and, like others, described the man as having some kind of mental illness or disability.