Ottawa police union president calls racism speculation in fatal arrest of Abdirahman Abdi ‘inappropriate’
‘It’s two separate conversations and not one that’s applicable here,’ Matt Skof says
By Kristy Nease, CBC Radio’s All in a Day, CBC News Posted: Jul 26, 2016 12:48 PM ET Last Updated: Jul 26, 2016 12:48 PM ET
As an investigation continues into the death of a Somali-Canadian man arrested by police on Sunday, the head of the union representing Ottawa police says suggestions racism could have played a role are “inappropriate.”
Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association, made the comments to Alan Neal, host of CBC Radio’s All In a Day, on Monday afternoon, after Abdirahman Abdi was pronounced dead in hospital.
Abdi, 37, had been on life-support following his arrest in the Hintonburg neighbourhood on Sunday morning. Police had been called to a coffee shop for reports of a man groping people, and investigators say a “confrontation” began after police located the suspect.
- Read an eyewitness description of that confrontation here.
- Read another eyewitness description of what happened immediately following the confrontation here.
Abdi had been walking on Somerset Street West carrying a foam block used to hold signs at construction sites over his head, and was being pursued by an officer with a baton to Abdi’s apartment building at 55 Hilda St., witness Ross McGhie told CBC News.
Abdi had dropped the foam block and had been hit with the baton several times by the officer, who was shouting at Abdi to comply with arrest orders, when another officer arrived and “immediately” began beating Abdi about the head and face, McGhie said.
Abdi lost consciousness and vital signs at some point during the arrest and was later taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead the following day.
Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, is handling the case. An autopsy on Abdi was expected to take place Tuesday.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims, Ottawa Coun. Jeff Leiper and others have called for a thorough investigation, saying the incident raises serious questions.
‘It’s two separate conversations’
Any suggestions racism could have played a role in Sunday’s events are “inappropriate,” Skof said Monday, adding it’s “unfortunate” that conversations around the deaths of black men by police in the United States are entering Canada.
“I’m worried that the conversation is even occurring, to be quite candid,” Skof said.
“To suggest that race was an issue in this, it’s inappropriate. The officers were called to the scene. The officers had to attend. Race, in this case, is a fact, just like your age, your gender, your height. It doesn’t have anything to do with our … decision-making. Our decision-making is based on our training, and our training has nothing to do with race.
“That’s unfortunate that we’re seeing the bleeding of that very difficult rhetoric into Canada now. And I’m very live to it, I can obviously be sensitive to it, I’m aware that it’s occurring, but it’s two separate conversations and not one that’s applicable here.”
Skof said police were responding to a “violent incident,” and that they had to contain it.
“The officers were experiencing a male that was assaultive in behaviour. So they are required, they’re bound to react to that, they have to react to that, they have to contain that,” Skof said.