THE JUSTICE FOR ABDIRAHMAN COALITION
SPEECH BEFORE THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE POLICY
FEBRUARY 22, 2018, 4:30pm
Thank you for accepting our request to appear before you today concerning Bill 175, The Safer Ontario Act.
It is an honour to be here representing many voices, but one key voice in particular. One who cannot be here today because his life was taken much to early. One who’s life could have been saved by the accountability and oversight that Bill 175 aims to implement.
Abdirahman Abdi was a 37 year old Somali-Canadian with mental health issues. He lived in an up and coming neighbourhood in Ottawa with his parents and siblings. Abdirahman was killed on July 24th 2016 by an Ottawa Police Services officer. Mr. Abdi had no criminal history, and there are no indications he posed a threat to the lives or safety of the officers at whose hands he died.
The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition is a group formed within days of Abdirahman’s death. Our Coalition is based in Ottawa and supported by local and national advocacy groups. We are a multigenerational team of professionals. Our Coalition asserts that fairness, transparency and accountability in our law enforcement institutions are critical to ensuring all of our safety and security.
Bill 175, is being introduced at a critical time for policing in Ontario. On balance, we believe the measures proposed in this Bill can serve to strengthen accountability and begin to rebuild public trust for law enforcement in this province.
The Coalition strongly supports the Bill’s proposed principles to govern police oversight in Ontario. The provisions clearly identify the importance of holding police officers and other policing officials accountable.
The Coalition also applauds the legislation’s significant improvements to transparency and cooperation within SIU investigations. Today, SIU investigations are shrouded in secrecy and that has weakened community trust in the impartiality and independence of the police oversight process.
This is particularly pronounced in cases that have had prolonged investigations without public disclosure on their status. For example, in the case of Abdirahman Abdi’s death, the investigation stretched over seven months, adding to a mourning family’s anguish. As such, we are pleased to see that the Safer Ontario Act will require SIU investigations to be finalized within 120 days, and to provide a public status update on the status of the investigation if the time limit is exceeded.
We also welcome the proposed measure to allow SIU Director’s to comment on ongoing investigations, in the interest of preserving public confidence. Moreover, the introduction of penalties for non-compliance and cooperation with SIU investigators is critical. The duty to cooperate is unenforceable, and therefore meaningless, if noncompliant officers are not subject to sanction. The offence and associated penalty acts as a specific and general deterrence of delinquent behaviour. Furthermore, it represents a level of accountability that does not currently exist. Therefore, we welcome the provisions empowering the SIU’s independence to fully realize its role by ensuring cooperation through real tangible consequences such as fines and even where appropriate imprisonment.
We also welcome the newly formed Ontario Policing Discipline Tribunal and the articulation of the standard of proof in the proposed bill as a balance of probabilities. The previous Police Act did not have clear language in articulating the standard of proof in civil proceedings. This change solidifies the reality that the profession of policing matches the same standards of other noble professions such as firefighters and medical doctors.
These measures, among others are of deep importance to us. In our written submission we will be sharing with you a list of provisions we want to see maintained at all costs as we see them as the pillars of this Bill. They will go along way towards restoring confidence in the oversight system at large.
While we support the majority of this Bill’s proposed changes, it is not all roses, as they say.
Of particular concern for our Coalition is the lack of discretion afforded to Chiefs of Police to suspend officers accused or convicted of criminal conducts without pay.
The Coalition acknowledges the fact that the public service profession of policing is a complex, difficult and dangerous one. Police officers have sworn to serve and protect us.
But what happens when the opposite is true?
When those who have sworn to protect become the threat?
Our legislative framework around policing should be sophisticated and agile enough to delegate such authority to Chiefs of Police, especially in cases where the police officer is accused of a serious crime such as manslaughter or murder.
We are most disappointed with the provisions around suspension without pay as they are currently detailed in this Bill and urge you to reconsider those measures. Our written submission will include suggestions for your consideration.
Other points in the bill go too far such as the opening up of police services to privatization in our communities. This is an area that should be more closely examined.
The totality of this legislation is sound, proactive, sustainable and an effective framework for policing focused on community safety and well-being.
Chair, I will conclude with this: The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition is self funded. I am here today on my own time. I stand before you representing concerned citizens across this province and our great nation.
This Bill is nearly 30 years in the making.
You are the decision makers.
Now is your time.
We ask you to rise to the occasion rather than succumb to the arm twisting of well funded lobby groups.
We know that this Bill won’t bring Abdirahman back, but it can bring trust, transparency and accountability to policing.
Please take a closer look at this Bill and consider the words I’ve shared with you in these last moments.
A safer Ontario depends on it.