Don Dimanlig

Editorial: Police wristbands send scary message

By Nathan Caddell

Not since the ubiquitous yellow of the Livestrong campaign has a wristband movement been as misguided as the new black and blue bracelets that Ottawa police officers have donned in support of Const. Daniel Montsion, the cop charged with manslaughter in the death of Abdirahman Abdi.

Unfortunately, while Livestrong was meant to build support for a good cause — fighting cancer — it will always be linked to the fast, hard fall of its founder, disgraced U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong, confessed blood doper and one of sport’s most infamous cheaters.

Similarly, Ottawa police officers, in an attempt to support one of their own, have instead endorsed and become affiliated with an indefensible position.

Last month, Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit charged Montsion with manslaughter, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon in connection with the July 2016 death of Abdi, a Somali-Canadian man living in Hintonburg.

Since then, local police officers have circulated — and have ordered hundreds more — rubber bracelets bearing the words “United we stand, divided we fall,” along with Montsion’s badge number.

The precedent this creates is dangerous.

Not only does it foster an “us vs. them” mentality between a key public institution and the city it serves, the solidarity campaign takes sides in an ongoing court case, abandoning any semblance of neutrality.

Let’s put aside the gruesome particulars of Abdi’s death for a moment, the aftermath of which can be seen on YouTube.

This is the vital public service that is responsible for protecting citizens. And in connection to the death of one of these citizens — a man with mental health issues at that — officers with wristbands have openly opted to express concern for one of their colleagues rather than one of the civilians they are sworn to protect.

While union solidarity should be expected on some level, this isn’t a teacher hitting the picket lines to support fellow educators. These officers are conveying support for a man charged with the use of excessive force in the field.

The fact that Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau even had to circulate a letter urging members not to wear the wristbands on duty is baffling. “We should all be concerned about the long-term impact on public trust this could create,” said Bordeleau.

And he’s right. For an institution that bills itself as “a trusted partner in community service,” it seems to be dangerously lacking in that very virtue.

That Abdi was a black Muslim man can’t be ignored either. In the wake of numerous deaths in recent years involving on-duty police officers in the United States, it’s fair to ask if the state of deep distrust towards police will seep across the border — if it hasn’t already.

If you do search for the video on YouTube, you’ll see Montison, in sunglasses and covered in tattoos, calmly reacting to a situation that has residents of Adbi’s building screaming in horror. Prosecutors will argue that, moments earlier, Montison bludgeoned a defenseless Adbi with his baton numerous times.

At least the wristband’s black-and-blue colour scheme is appropriate.