Protests to follow police killing of black man in Canada
Protesters say police violence against the black community is not solely a U.S. problem.
The death of a Somali Canadian at the hands of Ottawa police on Sunday has sparked nationwide anger and plans for protests by activists who say police violence against the black community is not solely an American problem.
Abdirahman Abdi, a 37-year-old immigrant from Somalia who neighbors said suffered an unspecified mental illness, died after a confrontation with police outside his apartment building. Witnesses said the police, responding to a harassment complaint, beat Abdi repeatedly with batons before handcuffing him.
A protest over Abdi’s death and police handling of the incident is planned for Thursday in Montreal.
Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Rodney Diverlus said police brutality against minorities often goes ignored in Canada. “The difference in Canada is that there’s a myth of inclusivity and there’s a myth that this thing doesn’t happen here because our police are less accountable to the public,” he said.
While BLM has had a presence in Canada since the protests in Ferguson, Mo., kick-started the movement in 2014, the recent killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge andPhilando Castile in Minnesota, as well as the shooting of Charles Kinsey in North Florida have inspired protests across Canada in solidarity with the American victims.
Abdi’s case is not the first time an unarmed minority has died at the hands of Canadian police. In Montreal, the 2008 killing of Fredy Villanueva, an 18-year-old native of Honduras, inspired protests and was one of several high-profile police shootings that led to the founding of an independent agency that investigates police violence.
In July 2015, a Toronto police officer fatally shot 45-year-old Andrew Loku, an immigrant from South Sudan with a history of mental illness, in his apartment building. The officer was not charged.
Perhaps most publicized was the 2013 death of Sammy Yatim, who was shot eight times and then Tasered after pulling a knife on a Toronto streetcar. The officer who shot him was found guilty of attempted murder in January.
“Strategic policing goes after problem places, the places that have higher levels of violence,” said Irvin Waller, a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for the Prevention of Crime. “In Canada, you have a disproportionate number of black people in those areas and a disproportionate number of Aboriginal people in those areas. Secondly, they have used some of the American policing techniques. Stop and frisk from New York has been used as a carding procedure in Canada. In Toronto, it’s very clear the carding procedure was used disproportionately against young blacks.”
Experts said that while Canada has far fewer acts of police violence than does the United States after adjusting for population differences, much of that can be attributed to a wider social safety net and far less access to hand guns.
Even so, the black and Aboriginal communities are targeted at a greater per capita rate than the rest of Canadian society.
The scope of the problem of police violence against those communities can be difficult to quantify. The Ontario Special Investigations Unit, a civilian oversight agency that looks into acts of violence involving police, compiles statistics by geography and the sex of the complainant, but keeps no statistics on race. Ian Scott, a lawyer and former head of the unit, said that’s because when the organization was founded, those statistics weren’t kept at the request of minority groups, fearing they would be misused.
“One reason they were not kept when the (unit) first started was that there was a big fuss in Toronto involving keeping race-based statistics,” said Scott. “The culture has really changed over time and now it’s the black groups that are interested in having race-based statistics. My feeling is now that if visible minority groups want to have race-based statistics, we should keep them.”