Monday, May 25, 2009

Ottawa taxi driver case raises issues of racism, police accountability and transparency

On May 11, 2007, Sami Aldoboni, an airport taxi driver, was driving on the Airport Parkway in Ottawa when a male driver in an SUV tried to overtake him on the single-lane road. The man in the SUV allegedly followed Aldoboni to the airport taxi drivers’ parking lot where he got out of the SUV and, while shouting racial insults at Aldoboni, shoved him to the ground and beat him until other drivers intervened. Aldoboni suffered two broken bones in his wrist and a broken index finger. Atiya, a driver who intervened during the altercation, reports that when he confronted Aldoboni’s attacker, the man showed him a police identification card. When police arrived at the scene, witnesses reported that the assailant was not handcuffed, but instead handed a pen so he could write his own statement. Further, the two police officers then got into the backseat of the SUV with the assailant driving, and the three left the parking lot together.

Although the incident happened two weeks ago, no charges have been laid. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is investigating the off-duty officer’s actions to determine if charges should be laid at all.

This incident raises serious issues of both overt and systemic racism within the Ottawa Police Service. A 2006 census of the Ottawa Police found racialized individuals under-represented among its members, sometimes by large margins. It is a frightening incident for the Ottawa community to have a member of their police service allegedly act so overtly racist, and apparently not afraid to connect that racism to his identity as a police officer.

A second issue raised by this incident is the accountability of officers in the Ottawa Police Service. The reported reaction of the police officers that came to the scene is an indication that officers involved in criminal activity are treated much differently than are civilians. One would presume that if the assailant was a civilian he would have been handcuffed, put in the back of a cruiser and taken to the police station. The way the assailant was actually treated in this case sent a strong message to those who witnessed it; and later to those who read about it. As one witness has said: “It was like, ‘He’s a police officer, we care about him. You’re just a taxi driver, we don’t care about you.’”Further, without having laid charges to date, we are forced to question if this officer will be held accountable at all. In a similar attack on a citizen by police officers in Vancouver in January, charges were laid in one week.

Lastly, this incident also raises issues of transparency. To date, the name of the police officer has not been disclosed by the Ottawa Police Service. Since the investigation of the officers that came to the scene has been postponed until the assailant’s investigation is completed, one would hope that the assailant’s investigation would be completed promptly. Yet the Ottawa Police Service has remained quiet about the incident since the Chief of Police met with Airport taxi drivers the day after the incident. While the response from taxi drivers after that meeting was positive, I’m sure that two weeks later they are getting curious as to what might come of the case.

Posted by Ashley Paterson (Law II) (LEAP Summer Intern)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing your article. I wanted to wait for a couple of weeks after this incident occurred, and see if there would be some follow up. I'm really disappointed to learn that there is little follow up of this assult by the Ottawa police and the mainstream media. In fact, it blows my mind. I can't think of any reason why the off-duty police officer wasn't arrested and taken to the police station like any other person who commits assult.