Controversial wristbands a hot topic for Ottawa's Community and Police Action Commitee
A meeting of the Community and Police Action Committee at Ottawa City Hall, Aprils 6, 2107
It’s a forum in which members of Ottawa’s Police Service and the city’s minority communities are supposed to come together to forge relationships and build bridges.
But at Thursday night’s meeting of the Community and Police Action Committee (COMPAC) it appeared as if the opposite was happening.
It was the first meeting of the committee since a controversial wristband campaign surfaced. Some police members are wearing the bracelets to show support for one of their own, Constable Daniel Montsion. Montsion is facing charges, including manslaughter, stemming from the 2016 death of Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi. Abdi died from injuries sustained while being arrested.
Police members maintain the campaign is not in support of Montsion’s actions but rather to support a fellow-member going through a difficult time.
Critics see it differently.
"What you act on is what we see as a community,” said Dahabo Ahmed Omer of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, speaking at the COMPAC meeting. “And when we're hearing police officers say we're wearing our wristbands because we support him what we see is that you support a man that's been charged with three counts."
Many of the committee members, representing various minority communities, agreed. “It’s an insult. It’s an affront,” said César Ndema-Mourssa of the Caribbean Union of Canada.
Representing the OPS, Deputy Chief Steven Bell had the unenviable task of trying to explain a support campaign the OPS didn’t start or sanction in the first place. “We understand the hurt that it caused, as unintended as it may have been,” he said.
The question is what, if anything, can be done about it?
Some say the police need to apologize. ”I understand you didn't condone what happened,” said Erin Barkel, speaking before the committee as a concerned citizen. “But what I've heard is that we regret that people were offended. What I haven't heard is that we're sorry."
The civilian co-chair of COMPAC agrees. “I do feel that an apology would be helpful at this time,” said Ketcia Dorsainville-Peters.
It couldn’t hurt. Critics say this latest fracture in police/community relations has undermined trust in the police and set back the very work COMPAC has been trying to accomplish.
Deputy Chief Bell declined to comment on the idea. And the reality is an official apology still wouldn’t prevent individual officers from wearing the wristbands on their own time.