Ottawa father alleges bylaw officer punched him in the face, city denies ‘any improper conduct’ during ticketing altercation
by Aedan Helmer
9 April, 2020
An Ottawa father is fighting $2,010 in tickets levied by an Ottawa bylaw officer during the weekend crackdown on physical distancing after he refused to give his name while he and others were being ushered out of Michele Park on Saturday evening.
Obi Ifedi, 39, is planning to contest his tickets in court and is now considering legal action of his own, alleging the bylaw officer punched him in the face with a bare-knuckle fist following an altercation involving the officer and two Ottawa police officers. Ifedi said the incident was witnessed by his seven-year-old daughter and his neighbour.
The city’s Bylaw and Regulatory Services department would not comment on the specific charges “as they are subject to court process,” according to a statement from director Roger Chapman. “With respect to the allegations of improper conduct on the part of a Bylaw Officer, BLRS denies any improper conduct allegations and the characterization of the incident.”
Chapman declined further comment “in light of a potential court process.”
In a phone interview on Wednesday, Ifedi said he was unfairly singled out by the bylaw officer on Saturday at around 7:30 p.m. There were others in the park playing basketball, he said, while he and his daughter were out strolling through the small neighbourhood park to get some evening air before returning to their townhouse nearby.
Ifedi came forward with his story believing his incident was also singled out by Mayor Jim Watson at Monday’s press conference touting the recent ticketing blitz — Ifedi’s was among the 43 tickets issued over the weekend — which has drawn criticism and accusations of “overpolicing” by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
The incident began, Ifedi said, when a bylaw officer approached from the roadside Saturday evening and began hollering at everyone to clear the park: “Keep moving, keep moving, you all should not even be outside, don’t you know there’s an emergency in the city?” Ifedi alleged the officer yelled.
Ifedi was unaware of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act that had taken effect two days earlier, and he said there were no obvious signs warning residents that the park was closed.
He and his daughter — both wearing gloves and masks — complied and filed out of the park with a neighbour who was also out walking with his wife at the time.
“He was following us and yelling at us, telling us to think of our kids, that there are signs everywhere. He was even swearing in front of my daughter,” Ifedi alleged. “I turned and told him we’ve already left the park, why are you still yelling at us? Even my daughter turned and said, ‘We already left.’
“And I said, ‘You keep telling us there are signs everywhere — you haven’t shown us one sign.’
“There are no signs,” Ifedi said. “So he didn’t like that and he focused on me and said, ‘Well, I’ll just write you a ticket’.”
Ifedi declined to give his name and started to walk away with his neighbour and daughter, and that’s when the bylaw officer flagged down two police constables who happened to be in the area on an unrelated service call on Penny Drive.
The two officers also asked for his name and identification, and according to Ifedi twice tried to grab his arms. He suffers from severe anxiety and was trying to explain to the officers he has no criminal record — something Ifedi said they would later acknowledge — and believed he was merely exerting his rights by walking away.
“This is not necessary guys. I just want to go home with my daughter,” he said he told the officers and started quickly backing away, then turned to run back to the area where his daughter and neighbours were walking home.
“I have major anxiety attacks, I’ve never had any trouble with the law, I have no record … As a black person in that situation, with my daughter (nearby), I was terrified,” Ifedi said.
“As I ran, the bylaw officer intercepted me at the grass across the sidewalk and I slipped as I tried to avoid him. I was on my back with my hands out and the bylaw officer jumped on my waist and punched me straight in the mouth,” Ifedi alleged.
The officer was not wearing gloves or any visible protective equipment, Ifedi said.
He was handcuffed by police and questioned, and after getting some water to cool down, Ifedi explained his situation, gave his name and was released.
Then the bylaw officer handed him the tickets, one for breaking the bylaw and the other for refusing to give his name: $2,010 in total.
“I looked at him in the face and said, ‘You know that what you’re writing is not what happened, and I have witnesses. I don’t know why you think this is OK in this economy, $2,000 when I didn’t break any law?
“He told me, ‘Take it to court’.”
According to Ottawa police, officers were asked to assist with a man who was breaching the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and who refused to identify himself to bylaw.
“Our front-line officers advised the man that if he did not identify himself to police, he would be arrested. The man fled the scene and was arrested following a brief foot pursuit,” said Const. Martin Dompierre in a statement.
He was released without charges and police said the incident “is considered non-criminal and concluded by OPS.”
Ifedi said the experience was terrifying for his daughter.
“When they were chasing me, she told me she was scared,” he said. “I asked her how many out of 10 and she said 10 out of 10. She said, ‘I didn’t want them to take you to jail’.”
The EMCPA states that a peace officer “who has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an individual has committed an offence … may require the individual to provide the officer with the individual’s correct name, date of birth and address.”
In its statement, the city’s bylaw department said it “reiterates its request to the public to comply with provincial emergency orders in furtherance of public health and the safety of our community.”
Source: Ottawa Citizen