Ottawa police and Abdirahman Abdi’s family settle lawsuit

Ottawa Police Services says it’s reached a settlement with the family of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali-Canadian man who died after a violent arrest by two Ottawa police officers in 2016.

The Abdi family launched a $1.5 million civil lawsuit against the Ottawa Police Services Board, former Ottawa police chief Charles Bordeleau, and the constables involved in his arrest, Daniel Montsion and David Weir. Last fall, Montsion was found not guilty of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in connection to Abdi’s death.

The family claimed the two constables used excessive force while trying to arrest Abdi for allegedly groping people inside a Hintonburg coffee shop.

The Ottawa Police Services Board announced during a public meeting Monday that the agreement had been reached.

The details of the agreement will not be released publicly, the board said.

“Significant improvements to the way police respond to individuals experiencing mental health events in our community is necessary and needs to take place in the immediate future,” said the board and the family in a joint statement Monday.

The statement notes the Abdi family is “encouraged” by OPS’s development of a mental health response strategy and have asked the community “to work co-operatively in pursuit of this goal.”

“Ensuring better future outcomes will be an important legacy of Abdirahman’s life,” the statement reads.

Trust in police broken: community

During Monday night’s meeting, OPS presented a report on how it would work with the public to develop that strategy, including consulting with Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and mental health advocacy groups.

But several community members and mental health professionals criticized the report, saying police should not be involved in response at all.

Delegates cited a lack of trust between the public and police after numerous cases where police have used excessive force in dealing with people with mental-health issues. 

“We’ve seen time and time again, both in the city of Ottawa and elsewhere, that bringing the police into situations where someone is experiencing a mental-health crisis is incredibly harmful to the person in distress, and in some cases even deadly,” said community member Miriam Shaftoe.

Chief responds to criticisms

OPS Chief Peter Sloly said police are trying to minimize their involvement in mental health crisis response, but right now certain community organizations “did not have the time, the capacity or the resources” to sit on the guiding council that would inform the strategy.

He also said during research of best practices, OPS had yet to find a model where police have “zero involvement in any sort of planning, innovating, implementing, evaluating, funding.”

Sloly also said officers are duty bound to respond to calls under the Ontario Police Services Act and that minimizing police involvement may require changes to legislation.

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