By Salma Mahgoub

The trial of an Ottawa police officer charged in the death of Abdirahman Abdi begins next month, and supporters of the victim are eager for the legal process to finally begin.

Const. Daniel Montsion’s criminal trial is scheduled for Feb. 4 at the Ottawa courthouse, nearly three years after Abdi died in July 2016 following a violent confrontation with police during his arrest.

“We’re anxiously awaiting the opportunity that’s at hand to finally begin the process of justice,” says Farhia Ahmed, chair of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition.

“We’re anxiously awaiting the opportunity that’s at hand to finally begin the process of justice,” says Farhia Ahmed, chair of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition. The group was formed a few days after Abdi’s death by members of the Ottawa-Somali community and local partners to promote transparency and accountability in law enforcement. 

“While it’s been devastating, these tragic circumstances have really brought a community together,” she says. “We’ve had an opportunity to connect with groups that we might not have otherwise connected with, and it’s brought a very uncomfortable conversation to the forefront.”

After an eight-month long investigation into Abdi’s death, the provincial agency that handles criminal offences involving police charged Montsion with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon.

According to the Special Investigations Unit, Abdi went into “medical distress” during a confrontation between police officers including Montsion outside Abdi’s apartment in Hintonburg. The officers were called to the area following reports of a man causing a disturbance. The 37-year-old died the next day in hospital.

Some of Abdi’s family members were present during the confrontation with police and will appear as witnesses for the 12-week trial. “Hopefully they will have some of their questions answered by hearing the evidence that comes out of the criminal trial,” says Lawrence Greenspon, a lawyer who is representing the Abdi family in a separate civil lawsuit against the Ottawa Police Services Board.

The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition expressed disappointment at the prolonged wait before the criminal trial could begin, especially as the case attracted wide public interest and centred on the death of a black man with mental health issues. Similar recent killings across North America have drawn attention to this as a systemic problem – violent patterns the Ottawa Police also seem susceptible to.

But Ahmed says while the delay caused undue pressure and frustration on the family, one of the positive outcomes of the trial will be the revived momentum on the issue of mental health support for racialized communities.

“We really just hope for true justice to be provided in the court,” says Ahmed. “I’m not in any way a legal professional or a judge that would be able to give an outcome, but from what I understand and what I’ve seen, I believe there was a severe injustice here and somebody needs to be accountable for it.”

The coalition is planning a vigil next month to show the continuing support for Abdi and his family ahead of the upcoming trial.

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