No apology for assault by by-law officer?

Adam: An Ottawa bylaw officer assaulted a citizen. Where’s the apology?

Mohammed Adam

Jun 19, 2020  

Obi Ifedi returns to the public park near his Grenon Avenue home where he was harassed by an Ottawa bylaw officer in early March while walking with his young daughter.  He was punched, he says, by the bylaw officer after he'd left the park and refused to give his name.  Julie Oliver/POSTMEDIA
Obi Ifedi returns to the public park near his Grenon Avenue home where he was assaulted by an Ottawa bylaw officer while walking with his young daughter. JULIE OLIVER / Postmedia

Mayor Jim Watson has ordered a “full review” of the incident involving a city bylaw officer who punched an Ottawa man during a scuffle in a west-end park in April, apparently not satisfied with an internal department investigation.

But what’s really there to review? The facts speak for themselves and by now, after a police investigation, the case of Obi Ifedi should have been resolved with an apology, and some disciplinary action against the bylaw officer. Other actions such as a review of training procedures could then be done internally.

The facts are so clear this should be a no-brainer. A bylaw officer in the course of his duty assaulted a citizen. We know this because the police say so. And the bylaw officer himself confessed to wrongdoing to the police, offering to make amends by cancelling a $2,010 ticket he issued to Ifedi, though he never did. The city should have drawn a line under the incident and publicly acknowledged that assaulting a citizen is wrong and would not be tolerated. They haven’t.

Instead, city managers are dragging their feet in the face of incontrovertible evidence. It goes without saying that city officials have handled this poorly. First, they denied any improper conduct by the bylaw officer and this newspaper’s characterization of the incident, then refused to answer any questions about what the city is doing about it. It was only after the mayor’s intervention that a senior manager revealed the officer is on desk duty. Now they are contemplating court action against Ifedi for alleged bylaw violations.

Director of bylaw services Roger Chapman told the Citizen the department “will continue to review the charges to determine whether it considers it in the public interest to pursue the matter further.” And then in a memo to councillors after Watson’s call for review, Chapman dug in, saying the alleged bylaw violations “may be contested before the Provincial Offences Court.”

Clearly, the mayor and his senior staff are not on the same page. While the mayor wants a review of the incident, including a plan “to ensure that similar incidents do not happen in the future,” city managers appear bent on retribution. The assault doesn’t seem to matter to them. What they want is to press charges against Ifedi.

It is not in doubt that Ifedi was involved in the altercation with the unnamed bylaw officer. Ifedi said he was taking a stroll in the park with his daughter, but the bylaw officer maintained he was using a basketball court against new regulations. Things were said, tempers flared and the pair engaged in some physical contact. It was initially something of a “he said, he said” situation, each participant with a different version of events. But police finding that the bylaw officer committed assault should have settled it.

“I reviewed all the presented evidence and determined that (the bylaw officer) did commit an assault while you were on the ground by striking you in the face,” the investigating officer wrote in an email to Ifedi. The police went on to say the bylaw officer accepted responsibility, and expressed regret for his behaviour.

Controversially, the police did not file charges against the bylaw officer, choosing instead, a pre-diversion program. One can only imagine if Ottawa police would have been as lenient if Ifedi had been the one throwing punches. Ifedi’s lawyer David Anber is clearly miffed, saying Ottawa police were “tone deaf” in their handling of the case.

Here is where we are in a nutshell: a bylaw officer and a citizen are involved in an altercation in a city park. They disagree on what happened. The police investigate and find that a white bylaw officer committed assault against a Black man, but file no charges. Enter senior city managers. Despite the assault by their officer, their preoccupation is to lay charges against the victim. It is ridiculous, to say the least.

City managers should understand that we can’t have staff going about assaulting citizens. The city should end their charade of an investigation and offer Obi Ifedi the apology he is owed.

Mohammed Adamis an Ottawa writer.    

Source: Ottawa Citizen

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