That Cst.Daniel Montsion of the Ottawa Police viciously beat an unarmed Somali man who died in front of horrified onlookers is not in dispute. He treated a number of eyewitnesses to a gruesome display of violence, assisted by Cst. Dave Weir. He did so with “brass knuckle” assault gloves , worn by an undetermined number of Ottawa cops with no vetting process in place.
Montsion is one of the highest-paid members of the Ottawa force (he pulled down a sweet $163,251.09 in 2014). He has form, as the British say: on a previous occasion, he panicked when dealing with a Somali man, and the judge in that case did not accept his version of events. Ottawa’s police “union” claims that race is not a factor in the brutalization of Abdi.
Montsion has now been charged with manslaughter, after an investigation by the province’s Special Investigations Unit. His colleague, unaccountably, has been cleared of all wrongdoing. The SIU is infamous for whitewashing the bad conduct of police officers in Ontario: of 3,400 investigations looked at by the Toronto Star in 2010, only 95 criminal charges were laid and only 16 convictions obtained. But even when it functions as it should, the SIU has only limited powers in any case, rendering it all but toothless. Nevertheless, in this instance serious criminal charges were laid. After all, there was a whole slew of witnesses, and videos as well.
The system itself, from top to bottom, is sharply biased in favour of the police, affording them near-impunity. Besides the SIU, there is the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), established in 2007 as a police oversight body for Ontario. “Oversight” would appear to be the operative word. Absurdly under-resourced, OIPRD received a total of 2,742 misconduct complaints in 2015-16, screening out 1,469 at the get-go. Of the remaining 1,273, 1,100 were referred back to the police forces involved, who are under no compulsion to act on them. 8 were referred to a different police service, and 165 were retained by OIPRD for investigation.
OIPRD has only 13 investigators on staff, including former police officers, and there are only so many hours in a day, so the screening process is necessarily extreme. But the winnowing doesn’t stop there. Of 2,103 allegations received in 2015-16 (there can be more than one allegation per complaint), 1,924 were found to be “unsubstantiated.” (These figures include the results of OIPRD investigations and those conducted by police forces to whom complaints have been referred.)
Verily, Ontario police officers must walk on water.
Even when rare cases do make it to court, the protective mantle persists. A “cozy” relationship with Crown Attorneys is not unknown. And when police officers are found to have lied under oath, they don’t get charged.
On the political side, things are no better.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson wouldn’t even deign to make a statement after the killing of Abdirahman Abdi. He did invite himself to the family funeral, though, for a photo-op. It was a disgraceful abdication of leadership by Ottawa’s chief magistrate. * As for Ottawa City Councillor Eli El-Chantiry, who heads up the Ottawa Police Services Board, he has never been more than an advocate for the police.
Daniel Montsion was released into the community without even having to face a bail hearing, extraordinary special treatment that was facilitated by El-Chantiry and very likely Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi.
Ottawa police officers have now taken to wearing wristbands in support of Montsion. Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof tells us not to worry none: “This is just about expressing their support for a colleague. It’s a very difficult environment that we’re in, in policing.”
“We are scared of the police,” says the Ottawa Somali community. Perhaps we should all be.
A pre-trial date of May 1 has just been set. Montsion did not appear, only his lawyer, and he is not planning to attend the pre-trial hearing either. He is currently relegated to a desk job, on full salary.
The conviction rate for Ottawa police officers charged after an SIU investigation? Zero.
[This piece is now up at Ottawa Life.]
* I am reliably informed by the publisher of Ottawa Life, Dan Donovan, that this is incorrect. In his words, “This was being reported by many media outlets, but further checking showed it was not true. Mayor Watson was away on vacation at the time of the incident (not in the city). His staff did make contact with a number of people including the family and then the Mayor himself privately spoke to several members of the family and some community members. The family invited the Mayor to the funeral because they felt it was important that he attend and that it would be important and appropriate for him to attend. He did not invite himself. We have independently confirmed this.”