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Family of Abdirahman Abdi sues Ottawa police two years after his death

Thursday July 26, 2018
By Kieran Delamont

Friends and neighbours listen to speeches during a community gathering in Somerset Square Park by the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition. Wayne Cuddington / Postmedia

On the two-year anniversary of Abdirahman Abdi’s death during an altercation with two Ottawa police officers, it came to light that his family is suing the police services board, the two officers involved and police Chief Charles Bordeleau for $1.5 million.

In a lawsuit filed in civil court at an Ottawa courthouse on July 17, eight members of Abdi’s family claim they have suffered “negligent infliction of mental suffering” as the result of Abdi’s death in 2016. They are seeking $500,000 in punitive damages, as well as various amounts for each of the family members named in the suit.

The lawsuit became public Tuesday, the same day members of Abdi’s family, the Somali-Canadian community and the Hintonburg neighbourhood gathered just steps away from 55 Hilda St., where he died, to remember and mark his death with a small “standing together” ceremony.

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Abdi died after Const. Daniel Montsion and Const. David Weir responded to a call about a man — allegedly Abdi — groping women at a Bridgehead coffee shop. The lawsuit lays out a chronology of events whereby Abdi was approached by police, chased from the coffee shop to a nearby apartment building, then forcefully arrested by police, suffering fatal injuries in the process.

In particular, it alleges that Montsion and Weir are liable for “assault, battery and use of excessive force,” during the arrest. The lawsuit claims “the actions of the Defendant Officers on July 24, 2016 … constituted assault and battery. In addition, the force used by the Defendant Officers on Mr. Abdi … was excessive. The Defendant Officers failed to use reasonable means to address the situation.”

It alleges that the Ottawa Police Services Board had no system of oversight for incidents such as this. The board, alleges the lawsuit, “failed to have any system in place by which it would become aware of any and all instances where it had been determined by a court that either or both of the Defendant Officers, or any officer, had used excessive force or violated an individual’s rights.”

It charges that Bordeleau “failed to ensure that the Defendant Officers were properly trained and/or provided guidelines with respect to … excessive force.”

Lawyer Lawrence Greenspon, who is representing the Abdi family in the civil suit, said the legal action will hopefully provide a recognition of wrongdoing, apart from the question of criminal responsibility.

“Criminal trial is the state versus Officer Montsion,” Greenspon said. “The civil action is a very different type of vehicle. The purpose of the civil action is one, for recognition that what happened to Abdirahman Abdi was wrong. And two, it’s through the civil action that we hope to see systemic change within the police force, the police services board, the chief of police, in the training, and we’re confident that the civil action is the best way to try to affect that change.”

Abdirahman Abdi is shown in a family handout photo. HO / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Civil proceedings won’t start until after the criminal trial is concluded, Greenspon said. With the criminal trial not scheduled to start until February 2019 — and scheduled for several months — that means that this case may not proceed until late 2019 or early 2020 (or even later if a coroner’s inquest is conducted following the criminal trial).

The Ottawa police declined to comment, directing all questions to the city’s litigation and labour relations department. Members of the Abdi family also declined to speak to media.

The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition also announced on Tuesday that it was setting up a scholarship in Abdi’s name, called the Abdirahman Abdi Scholarship for Social Justice. The scholarship is for members of the black community who are “working towards social justice,” said Ifrah Yousuf, a member of the coalition. Every year, starting in 2019, they plan to award $2,500 to a student pursuing post-secondary education.

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