Justice Jonathan Brunet refused to schedule an earlier trial for Daniel Montsion, the police officer charged in the death of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somalian immigrant with mental health issues who died after a violent arrest in Ottawa in 2016.
The Ottawa Citizen’s Jon Willing reports that the Ontario Court of Justice refused the Crown’s request to have the trial of police officer Daniel Montsion scheduled for the early spring of 2018. The trial will begin on February 4, 2019, nearly three years after charges were laid against Montsion and well past the legal deadline for conducting trials in a timely manner.
Const. Montsion was charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon by the Special Investigations Unit, a police oversight agency within the Ministry of the Attorney General, on March 6, 2017. On July 24, 2016, Montsion and another officer responded to a report that 37 year old Abdirahman Abdi was groping women in a coffeeshop. According to eyewitness accounts, they brutalized Abdi during his arrest.
Eyewitnesses speaking to the CBC shortly after Abdi’s death said they saw the officers beat Abdi with batons after he had been chased and tackled to the ground. An eyewitness said she pleaded with the officers to stop beating Abdi and told them that he had mental health problems, but was ignored. Paramedics didn’t arrive on the scene until Abdi was in critical condition and bleeding on the ground, according to one eyewitness. He died of his injuries shortly afterwards.
The Ottawa Citizen states that the trial was initially scheduled to begin in September 2018, but Montsion’s defence lawyer, Michael Edelson, was not available.
In order to retain his lawyer, Montsion waived his right to a timely trial and agreed to have the start date of the trial pushed back to February 2019 to accommodate Edelson’s schedule.
The Crown asked the court to enforce an earlier trial date regardless, noting in its written submission that the Supreme Court decision in R v Jordan requires trials to be concluded within 18 months of charges being laid.
The Crown also said that an earlier trial date was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice and to address the public interest in the case:
“It is unacceptable that the first available dates offered by the court — in a case that has generated such heightened levels of public concern and consternation — is scheduled to start on a date that is beyond the presumptively unreasonable limit imposed by the Supreme Court. Such a state of affairs undermines the public interest and confidence in the administration of justice.”
Abdi’s death sparked public outcry and protest against police brutality and the prevalence of racial profiling within law enforcement. The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, a community initiative launched a few days after Abdi’s death, raised the alarm on the circumstances of Abdi’s violent arrest and regularly speaks out against police brutality and racism.
In his written submission, Edelson characterized the public outcry over Abdi’s death as “based on a fringe group of extremists.” Edelson also refused to have the trial held in a government building or a courtroom in another jurisdiction at an earlier date, citing security concerns.
Justice Brunet rejected the request for an earlier trial date on the grounds that the right to a timely trial is an individual right which Montsion decided to waive.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.