SFUO Statement on the Death of Abdirahman Abdi

August 10, 2016

OTTAWA – The Executive of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), of which three of six members identify as Black and two of six identify as Muslim, would like to express our outrage and sadness over the police killing of Abdirahman Abdi.

We extend our deepest and most sincere condolences to the Abdi family. The violent incident that took the life of 37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi on Sunday, July 24th is a clear demonstration of police brutality, which is disproportionally and specifically directed towards Black bodies. We, as a progressive students’ union, strongly believe in the power of strength in numbers, and wish to take a united stand against the anti-Black, ableist, and Islamophobic violence omnipresent within our society, including our police forces.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Abdirahman Abdi. It is shameful to witness the same people designated to protect us, harming us instead,” stated Hadi Wess, Vice President, Social of the SFUO. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done in order to dismantle the prevalent stigma around mental health and combat the pervasive racism and islamophobia that still exist in our society, even in 2016.”

Furthermore, we call upon the Mayor of the City of Ottawa, Mr. Jim Watson, to apologize for his silence on the incident, which indicates complacency with the current system in place. Mayor Watson has sent a clear message to the affected communities that he will not take a stand for citizens dying at the hands of his police.

We, as elected officials, be it of our local students’ union or any level of government, have a duty to represent and protect our fellow members and citizens before anything else. Mayor Watson’s lack of support towards the affected communities, in our opinion, shows a disregard of the recurrent violence against Black bodies, a topic which is increasingly discussed within the media, but has always been a reality for those facing it.

“You cannot support the family and affected communities while the men who killed Abdirahman are still on the payroll,” said Vanessa Dorimain, Vice-President, University Affairs of the SFUO. “The communities came together and met police at their headquarters with recommendations; we support these recommendations and will continue to put pressure on our policy makers until they are met.”

The recommendations are:

  1. To acknowledge that there is a crisis within the Ottawa Police Services (OPS) when it comes to how authorities interact with members of racialized communities, and specifically, with those with mental health issues;
  2. To strike a task force to examine this crisis, and the disproportionate number of Black men and people with mental health differences that have been killed by police, and to commit to funding relevant programs and legislating policies that address systemic problems in relation to vulnerable and racialized communities. Analyze all best practices in community policing, consult with communities, and provide a comprehensive review of police services and an action plan for change, including specific timelines;
  3. To respond to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s assertion that there is “no effective mechanism to hold police accountable for systemic discrimination” and to provide a remedy for this gap;
  4. To amend legislation to ensure that the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) provides its reports to the public, until such time that the system has been fully reviewed and overhauled to provide a transparent, effective, and independent civilian oversight and accountability of police;
  5. To commit to reassigning police officers who are under investigation for causing death or serious injury to administrative duty, and prohibiting any form of interfacing with community members until the investigation is complete;
  6. To fully implement the recommendations made by Ontario’s Ombudsman in the recent report titled “A Matter of Life and Death” and provide regular updates to communities;
  7. To create consistent standards across all police services in every province with regards to training in dealing with and responding to individuals with mental health issues, as referenced in the 2013 Mental Health and Criminal Justice Policy Framework by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health;
  8. To require the Special Investigation Unit, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and Statistics Canada to collect and publicly report race-based data on police encounters with civilians, including but not limited to, police use of force;
  9. To create a special task force to review all Coroner’s Inquest recommendations made since 2001, and identify key recommendations which require immediate response and implementation;
  10. To require all police services in every province to wear body cameras, as well as place cameras in police vehicles.

The original list of recommendations can be found online at the Justice for Abdirahman’s website.

The SFUO unites the voices of over 36,000 undergraduate students at the University of Ottawa.

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For more information:
Francesco MacAllister-Caruso
Vice-President, Services and Communications
(613) 562-5800 ext. 4072 (office) or vp.communications@sfuo.ca (email)