Statement on death of Abdirahman Abdi

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The CCR is deeply distressed at the tragic death of Abdirahman Abdi following a troubling altercation with officers of the Ottawa Police Service.

We extend our sincere condolences to Mr Abdi’s family and to all who knew him as a friend and neighbour.

Mr Abdi came to Canada to escape violence in Somalia. We regret profoundly that he was not able to find a haven from violence in Canada.

As Canadians we rightly pride ourselves on welcoming refugees and on building through immigration a strong and diverse country in this land that we share with the First Peoples. The manner of Abdirahman Abdi’s death forces us to confront the fact that Canada is not always safe for newcomers, especially if they are black or otherwise racialized, or have mental health problems.

In order for Canada to truly be a safe haven for refugees, we need to acknowledge and confront the racism that exists in our society. We call on all levels of government and all enforcement agencies to strengthen their commitment to dismantling the racism that too often affects how government authorities interact with People of Colour and Indigenous People.

Canadian police forces also sometimes struggle to deal appropriately with people suffering from mental health problems, as in the case of Mr. Abdi as well as Farshad Mohammadi, who came to Canada as a refugee from Iran, and was shot and killed by Montreal police in January 2012.

The recent focus on welcoming Syrian refugees has made many Canadians aware that experiences of persecution and flight cause great stress. Although the overwhelming majority of refugees show great resilience, a small number may suffer mental health problems. We need to ensure that they too are safe: as a society we must find ways to respond to people who are experiencing a mental health crisis in a way that protects them.

The CCR acknowledges the work of the Somali Canadian community in Ottawa, which is showing leadership in seeking a way forward in this difficult situation. We recognize also the strong efforts made by many in the Ottawa Police Service and other services across Canada to build community relations and adopt practices of de-escalation. Unfortunately these efforts are gravely undermined by events such as the death of Mr Abdi. It is therefore crucial that the investigation into the death, being conducted by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), be full, transparent and speedy.

2 August 2016