Bylaw officer fired for striking man in Michele Park incident

A review concluded with “no dispute” that the bylaw officer “struck the member of the public,” a memo to the mayor and members of council said Friday.

Aedan Helmer

Aug 14, 2020  •  

OTTAWA - JUNE 8, 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

A City of Ottawa bylaw officer has been fired for excessive use of force after he punched a man near a Michele Heights park during a physical distancing crackdown in April in a high-profile incident that sparked outrage in the community and prompted the mayor’s call for a “full review.”

That review concluded with “no dispute” that the bylaw officer, whose name was not released, (subsequently identified as Marc MtanosEd) “struck the member of the public,” Anthony Di Monte, general manager of the city’s emergency and protective services, wrote in a memo delivered to the mayor and members of council on Friday.

In reviewing the “specific circumstances of the incident, and given the existing training curriculum provided to By-law Officers,” Di Monte wrote, the Bylaw and Regulatory Services internal investigation concluded the officer “engaged in an excessive use of force in the altercation.”

Mayor Jim Watson said he supported the staff decision in a news conference Friday after the mayor and Coun. Jenna Sudds, chair of the community and protective services committee, had called for a “full review” of the high-profile April 4 incident and the “policies, procedures and training in place to prevent incidents of this nature from happening.”

Ottawa father Obi Ifedi was confronted near Marlene Catterall Park and was punched in the mouth by a bylaw officer enforcing temporary rules regarding the use of park space under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, which had taken effect two days earlier. Ifedi, who was with his seven-year-old daughter at the time, said he tried to explain to the officer that he was complying with the rules, but was fined $2,010 after the incident.

Ifedi and his lawyer said they were “shocked” when a police investigation concluded that Ifedi had been assaulted, but that the matter was resolved without criminal charges and the bylaw officer was referred to a pre-charge diversion program.

The mayor’s call for a full review on June 9 came amid a public outcry.

The bylaw officer was placed on administrative duties and was subsequently placed on investigatory leave while Bylaw and Regulatory Services conducted its investigation, Di Monte said in his memo.

“While this is an isolated incident and there is no pattern of this behaviour, an assault against a member of the public in the course of duty is very serious,” Di Monte wrote, adding the department had reviewed the policies and procedures that BLRS applied to its investigation and “will continue to review and update these corporate policies where warranted. The By-law Officer’s employment with the City of Ottawa has been terminated.”

David Anber, Ifedi’s lawyer, said he would have preferred to see the officer “held accountable” before the courts.

“I would have much rather seen (the officer) keep his job — perhaps after receiving some remedial training — but have to be held accountable within the criminal justice system like any other citizen would be,” said Anber, who added the firing did not address “the lack of action” by Ottawa police.

Ottawa police have said the case “met the criteria” for resolution through the pre-charge diversion process.

Di Monte said during Friday’s news conference that chief of Bylaw and Regulatory Services Roger Chapman would be “communicating our regrets” to Ifedi on Monday.

The tickets issued under the EMCPA, however, are still “in the judicial process right now,” Di Monte said, “and we have no say in that.”

Anber is still challenging his clients’ tickets, he confirmed Friday, though he said one citation may be “nullified” due to a technical error.

“With respect to the second ticket, aside from the fact that Mr. Ifedi did not do what the bylaw officer said he did, there is now the added issue of the bylaw officer being fired,” Anber said.

“This is relevant firstly that the prosecutor needs to determine if there remains a public interest in prosecuting this case. And secondly, even if there is, they may no longer have a realistic chance of convicting my client (even if he was guilty, something we dispute) because excessive force used in an investigation violates the Charter of Rights and can result in charges being stopped that way.

“The prosecutor needs to take a long hard look at the viability of our excessive force argument in light of this new development in the case. These are discussions I expect to have with them in the next few weeks.”

Sudds said the city “is committed to continuously reviewing our policies and training to ensure we de-escalate situations, and I know our dedicated by-law officers will continue to work collaboratively and continue to build strong relationships with our community. As chair of CPSC, I will continue to have this important conversation with our city staff.”

Watson defended the April enforcement blitz in which 43 tickets were issued over one weekend — Ifedi’s among them.

“There were well over 1,000-plus calls for service and very few tickets were actually issued in violation of those activities, whether in parks or in other public spaces. Bylaw tries their very best to use education in enforcement first because that’s the Canadian way of doing things, but, unfortunately, we had cases where barber shops and salons were operating illegally, people were continuously gathering in public spaces when they were not allowed to, and at some point you have to say, ‘Enough is enough,’” Watson said.

“And we need to hit these people in the pocketbook so they understand that we’re serious because the last thing we wanted to have was more flare-ups of COVID-19 … We will continuously strive to do better and to ensure that our officers have the necessary training to continue to do the important work they have to do in their own community.”

Source: Ottawa Citizen