(Open letter from Amnesty International Canada Secretary General Alex Neve to SIU Director Tony Loparco and Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau)
August 2, 2016
Dear Mr. Loparco and Chief Bordeleau,
Amnesty International is writing this Open Letter to you regarding the case of Abdirahman Abdi. Mr. Abdi is a 37 year-old Somali-Canadian man who died on July 24th following an altercation and alleged beating at the hands of two Ottawa Police officers. It has been widely reported that Mr. Abdi was well known to suffer from serious mental health problems.
We recognize that the case is being investigated by the Special Investigations Unit and the Ottawa Police Service’s Professional Standards Section. It is vital that those investigations be thorough, transparent and impartial.
Questions have been asked by Mr. Abdi’s family and friends, the Somali community and numerous organizations as to whether Mr. Abdi’s race played a role in how his case was handled, including how the two officers responded to him and the nature of the force they used. Those questions arise at a time of heightened sensitivity and tension with respect to concerns about racism and policing in a number of high-profile cases in the United States, but also a number of individual cases and longstanding concerns about profiling and carding in Canada.
Retired Ottawa deputy chief of police Larry Hill is quoted in today’s media, indicating that it is unlikely that the SIU will consider whether racial bias played a role in Mr. Abdi’s death. We realize those comments are not offered on behalf of either the OPS or the SIU. However, coming in the wake of comments from the Ottawa Police Association that it is “inappropriate” to suggest racism played a role in Mr. Abdi’s treatment, Amnesty International is compelled to urge that you ensure that the question about potential racism, implicit and explicit, does indeed receive close attention in your respective investigations.