By Maureen McEwan
It has been four years since the death of Abdirahman Abdi in Hintonburg. The 37-year-old Somali-Canadian was killed during an altercation with Ottawa Police Service officers outside of his home at 55 Hilda St. on July 24, 2016.
This July 24th, hundreds of community members gathered at the site to pay their respects to the memory of Abdi and his family and to demand change. The “Standing Together 2020” event was organized by the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition (‘the Coalition’).
The Coalition is an Ottawa-based advocacy group that was created in 2016 days after Abdi’s death.
“The objective of the Coalition’s campaign is to obtain greater transparency, challenge racial inequity, and bring positive change in order to secure justice for the late Abdirahman Abdi and his family,” the Coalition’s webpage states.
At the Standing Together 2020 event, Farhia Ahmed, the Coalition’s chair, spoke to the crowd.
“His death has caused an awakening. A united community and a strong call for justice has emerged,” said Ahmed, echoing the message on the memorial plaque at 55 Hilda St. honouring Abdi.
“We are in awe of the movement that we’ve seen rise around us and we are in awe of the support that we’ve received,” Ahmed added. “Of course, we benefit from the plight and the fight of those activists who came before us. Indeed, they were many. But you, you have endured with us and the Abdi family — Four grueling years of justice moving at a snail’s pace.”
The week of July 20-24 also marked the close of the trial of Con. Daniel Montsion. At the Ontario Court of Justice, Montsion was charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in connection to the fatal incident in 2016. The Standing Together 2020 organizers confirmed that the verdict will be read in October 2020.
“The system must change. The structure must change. The process must change. And the infrastructure, the framework — and the legal framework, in specific — must change,” Ahmed said. “And we’re all going to change it together.”
At the time of his death, Abdi was known to have mental health issues. Naini Cloutier, Executive Director of Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC), spoke to the need for first responders to deal with mental health issues in a different way.
“For someone who is suffering from mental health, the consequences should not be that disastrous. The fact that someone did not get the needed support in [their] community should not end up in the disastrous manner, in the horrifying manner, in which [that] life had ended,” Cloutier said at Standing Together 2020. “There are so many alternatives available. There are so many other models and possibilities.”
“I think it is a lack of imagination and it is a lack of awareness when people resort to such inhuman approaches to dealing with mental health,” she added.
Local religious leaders, business owners, advocates and members of the Coalition spoke at the event as did Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper and Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden. Lawrence Greenspon, lawyer to the Abdi family, spoke towards the end of the evening.
“This past year has been particularly difficult for the Abdi family, and they fully recognize and appreciate your support during this difficult time,” Greenspon said. “At a time of despair, thank you for your concern. At a time of loss, thank you for your support and understanding. And, above all, thank you for remembering Abdirahman Abdi and his family.”
To learn more about the Coalition, visit www.justiceforabdirahman.ca.