The Ontario Court of Justice acquitted Canadian police constable Daniel Montsion Tuesday of all charges, including manslaughter and assault, in the death of a mentally ill Black man who was arrested in Ottawa in 2016. Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali-Canadian man, led police on a foot chase that culminated in his arrest. The police had Abdi on the ground and in handcuffs when he went into cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead the next day. Abdi’s death sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and racism.
Constable Montsion was tried for more than 72 days on charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. The Crown in this instance served as the prosecutor; its burden was to prove Montsion’s culpability in the aforementioned charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Its positions included assertions that Montsion had committed an unlawful act because he had used excessive and unjustified force when he punched Abdi multiple times in the face and head while wearing hard-knuckled gloves.
Montsion, the defendant, did not dispute that he struck Abdi when he was on the ground; rather, he claimed that the force he used was not unlawful because it was legally justified. The defense also brought in medical evidence to show that Abdi may have reached the point where cardiac arrest was inevitable even before Montsion arrived on the scene, thereby proving Abdi’s death was not caused by Montsion.
In announcing his decision, Justice Robert Kelly defended his decision to exculpate Montsion. The Justice was “left in a state of reasonable doubt over whether Montsion’s acts caused Abdi’s death after considering the medical and non-medical evidence.” He emphasized that he did “not ignore the Crown’s submission that Abdi had no weapons when Montsion arrived at scene and did not strike officers when he was on the ground, though he struggled with some success against two trained officers.” Nevertheless, he concluded that the “Crown failed to prove it was a substantial departure from the standard of a reasonable police officer.”
Abdi’s death is seen by many as a flashpoint moment in the already fractured relationship between minority communities and police in the city. Following the verdict, many activists, politicians and Black community leaders spoke out in solidarity with Abdi and his family, including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.