Black Lives Matter spills over to Canada, after Somali immigrant dies following arrest in Ottawa

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 2:42pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 9:02pm

The death of a mentally ill black man following his arrest by police in Canada’s capital has sparked calls for a probe into whether race was a factor in the incident as advocacy groups voice concerns over police violence against minorities.

Witnesses told local media that the Somali immigrant, identified as Abdirahman Abdi, 37, was beaten by Ottawa police officers. A video from a bystander shows him in a bloodied shirt lying face down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back and his pants pulled down before paramedics arrived.

While incidents of this type are rare in Canada, they are not unheard of and the death echoes similar events in the United States where allegations of police brutality and racial bias have sparked protests following a series of confrontations caught on video.

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Some have also expressed frustration that Abdi’s death has not attracted as much attention as some high-profile incidents have in the United States.

“There’s a thirst publicly to have this conversation, and not to have it in the American context, but to have it in our context,” said Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto.

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit has launched a probe into the arrest. A family spokeswoman said that Abdi had been dead for 45 minutes before arriving at the hospital.

A protest march over his death is scheduled in Montreal on Thursday, with nearly 200 people so far confirmed to attend, according to an event page on Facebook.

“That is a legitimate question people are asking and there will be a need to hopefully find some answers as to how or whether there was prejudice at play here,” said Amira Elghawaby, spokeswoman for the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Abdi’s death comes as the Black Lives Matter movement has ramped up its activity in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, and follows the death of two non-white men at the hands of police in that city in recent years.

“This is another deadly display of the police penchant for offering triggers over treatment,” tweeted Anthony Morgan, a Toronto lawyer.

Last year, a Toronto police officer shot and killed Andrew Loku, a 45-year-old Sudanese immigrant with a history of mental illness. No charges were laid.

A Toronto police officer was convicted in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim, 18, after an altercation on a streetcar.

Earlier on Wednesday, Baltimore’s top prosecutor dropped all remaining charges against police officers tied to the death of black detainee Freddie Gray. His death led to protests and riots in April of last year.