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Mistaken arrest of black man in Ottawa sparks anger and debate

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Kane Niyondagara said Ottawa police shocked him with a taser during a chase. (Archive photo)


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The heavy-handed arrest of an innocent Burundian mistaken for a wanted suspect sparked outrage and warnings of the risk of a deterioration in relations with the Security Service Ottawa police with diverse black communities, according to observers.

The event puts also highlights the seriousness of split-second decisions made by police officers in volatile conditions, according to a former police officer.

President of the Alliance of Burundians of Canada, Martine Rita Sabushimike, calls for a public apology, better training and consequences for the officers who arrested Kane Niyondagara on February 16.

He is traumatized, his family is traumatized, our community is traumatized, says Ms. Sabushimike.

Kane Niyondagara said Ottawa police shocked him with a stun gun during a chase , since he had been punched and kicked on the ground during his arrest. The police intervention was partly filmed, and a paramedical call report confirms several elements of his story.

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Ms. Sabushimike talks about racial profiling and another example in Canada that has similarities to the George Floyd case in the United States. Mr. Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest.

It's just a reminder that, ultimately, we are never safe, even in this beautiful country that we love, so we were very disappointed, explains- she added, adding that many Burundians come to Canada thinking they will escape endemic police violence in their country.

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The President of the Alliance of Burundians of Canada, Martine-Rita Sabushimike, says her community is “traumatized” by what happened.

The president of the Black advocacy group North-South Development, Racines and Culture Canada, César Ndema-Moussa, believes that Mr. Niyondagara's story calls into question the idea that Canada is welcoming to newcomers.

I am outraged. We talk about fairness, but such events are part of a long list of scandalous acts committed against black people, their bodies and their minds, denounces -t-il.

Mr. Niyondagara said police held his face in the snow while pinning him to the ground, preventing him from breathing. Mr. Ndema-Moussa considers this to be a form of humiliation which adds insult to injury.

Why push the person's face into the snow when they are already under control?, asks Mr. Ndema-Moussa.

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Cesar Ndema Moussa, president of the Black advocacy group North-South Development, Roots and Culture Canada (Archive photo)

The police provided little information to defend their actions, though it was only that she was responding to a report of a wanted person. She admits that the officers arrested the wrong person, but notes that Mr. Niyondagara fled. He was released unconditionally after police learned his identity.

Former Ottawa Police Service (OPS) detective sergeant Gregory Brown says it's important to keep in mind the level of threat officers would have perceived – even if wrongly – by prosecuting a person wanted for a serious crime.

Although the police did not confirm who they were looking for, Mr. Niyondagara said the police had questioned him about a person named Gibriil.

Police were looking for Gibriil Bakal, a another black man who had no connection to Mr. Niyondagara. Mr. Bakal is wanted for murder in connection with a January shooting.

It appears the police were looking for a murder suspect… presumably the person is armed and dangerous. When an individual flees, it is behavior that corresponds to that of a guilty person […], which would not fail to arouse suspicion x27;police officers' concerns and to reinforce considerations regarding officer safety, says Mr. Brown, who is now an adjunct professor in the sociology department at Carleton University.

He acknowledges that it would be inappropriate to kick a person if they were lying on the ground, but he adds that there could be other pieces of the puzzle that could explain why the officers used force that morning.

Mr. Brown argues that Ontario's use of force model allows for distraction blows, that is, causing pain in a certain part of the body , to distract attention from someone who is [resisting arrest].

In the video around twenty seconds, we can see three police officers on a man. We see one of them push his knee into the man’s back. He starts again at least twice. A fourth police officer then enters the frame of the video and forces the man to bury his face in the snow.

In the brief video of Mr. Niyondagara's arrest, an officer is heard shouting what sounds like put your hands up now!.

I am not the sole judge of these matters, but in my opinion it would be entirely appropriate for an officer to kick someone who conceals their hands and refuses to ;#x27;obey [by refusing to show] his hands to the agent, argues Mr. Brown.

But others see no excuse for the way Mr. Niyondagara was treated. Criminologist at the University of Toronto, Scot Wortley says police are supposed to show restraint. The fact that Mr. Niyondagara ran makes no difference to this expert.

This may explain some of the behavior, but I'm not sure it justifies it. The leak excuse is no longer validated by the court. The police cannot therefore shoot someone, hit them with an electric shock gun or hit them because they leave the scene, he says.

Mr. Wortley said there are relatively few studies on the role of ethnicity in police use of force. He is the author of two studies: one for the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the other for the Ipperwash Inquiry.

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Scot Wortley, criminologist at the University of Toronto (Archive photo)

He adds that all recent data suggests there is a gross over-representation of black people in police use of force cases. In Ottawa, police statistics from 2022 show that about 25% of people against whom police used force were Black, while Black people make up about 8% of the city's population.

According to Mr. Wortley, some believe that police officers perceive a higher level of threat when they have dealing with young black men, even if recent events do not confirm it.

Consequently, the&# x27;use of force may be more rapid or sometimes unjustified. This is an important question: the existence or not of hyper-vigilance which can lead to forms of racism, he affirms.

Mr. Wortley says there was a clear lack of transparency in use of force cases.

I think we need to change the scenario if we want improvements to be made in the future, otherwise we will continue to have these two isolated and polarized groups.

A quote from Scot Wortley, criminologist at the University of Toronto

Acting General Counsel of the Black Legal Action Centre, Danette Edwards, notes that Mr. Niyondagara's experience highlights the systemic problems plaguing policing in Canada and elsewhere. According to her, it is not surprising that he fled the police.

When you are innocent, sometimes your instinct drives you to act. I think that arrest after arrest, we learn that we can't trust the police, that we can't trust them to treat us humanely, she says.

According to Ms. Edwards, police violence creates trauma in black communities. They fuel distrust of black people and the differential treatment that black people, especially black men, face when walking down the street, she said.

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Kane Niyondagara said police held his face in the snow while pinning him to the ground, making it difficult for him to breathe. (File photo)

Ms Edwards explains that police should be better trained in de-escalation techniques and that& #x27;she must tackle systemic bias.

Gregory Brown, former detective sergeant with the Ottawa Police Service, shares this opinion.

In my opinion, training in Ontario is very insufficient, he regrets, describing the number of on-the-job training as negligible.

Mr. Brown adds that this case provides an important lesson about how people should respond when approached by police, even if they are innocent.

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If the police ask you to do something, comply with their requests. If you are wrongfully arrested by the police, you may spend a few hours in jail, but get a good lawyer, file a complaint, sue the police… but don't run away.

A quote from Gregory Brown, former detective sergeant with the Ottawa police

The OPS said Monday in late afternoon that he had no further comments to make on this matter at the moment. The Ottawa Police Services Board, the administrator mandated to oversee the OPS, however, made a statement.

The Commission expects members of the Service to comply with all applicable policies and procedures when interacting with the public and to maintain standards of professionalism the highest, we can read in a statement sent by email by the President of the Commission, Salim Fakirani.

It is a priority for us to quickly and transparently deal with incidents that do not meet these expectations in order to maintain public trust, he recommends.

M. Fakirani confirms that a board meeting scheduled for next week will provide an opportunity to ask questions and obtain clarification from the OPS.< /p>

With information from Arthur White-Crummey, of CBC News

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116