BY SHAAMINI YOGARETNAM
Horndiplomat-On the same day Abdirahman Abdi was pronounced dead, Ottawa police moved to hire a Somali-Canadian man who had failed a background check, prompting the civilian investigator in charge of vetting officers to resign, Postmedia has learned.
Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau. DARREN BROWN
On July 25, just after 3 p.m. Abdi, 37, was pronounced dead in hospital after being arrested by police the day before on the steps of his Hilda Street apartment building. On the same day as his death, the decision was made to offer a job to an applicant.
In a letter of resignation, obtained by Postmedia, sent by civilian background investigator Christina Benson, Benson alleged the applicant was an “unsuitable” police candidate and that his hiring “is being done for political reasons to appease the Somali community.”
Chief Charles Bordeleau told Postmedia he approved the hiring of 19 new officers during a previously scheduled meeting on July 26. Postmedia has learned that the approved list of candidates sent by the recruiting section did not initially include the applicant. All police candidates are presented to the chief, who is responsible for signing off on their hiring.
Bordeleau said that “all of the candidates had gone through the rigorous OPS selection process and I believe met the qualifications for employment with our service.”
In an email to all officers sent Monday evening after Postmedia asked him for comment, the chief said two of the candidates that were made offers had “items in their background checks” that he was asked to review. “I looked at the cases in their totality and established offers should be made to both individuals.”
The applicant is active in the Somali community in Ottawa. All potential police officers are heavily screened prior to being hired.
Abdi’s arrest and his subsequent death have rippled through the city and have resulted in community allegations of police brutality and racism.
Benson, a background investigator on the force for more than five years, alleged in her resignation letter that the service has “disregarded their own hiring standards.”
Benson said it was with “great regret” that she “must resign,” in a letter dated Aug. 4. Benson had conducted the background investigation on the applicant.
The decision was made to offer the job to the applicant on July 25, after the force had previously sent him a rejection letter, according to sources, and Benson wasn’t notified until the next day.
“I was shocked since I indicated in my report that the applicant was not recommended for the position of constable,” Benson wrote in her resignation letter. “This was not a case of a candidate being borderline on the scale of hiring as is sometimes the case.”
“The facts compiled during my thorough background investigation are worrisome,” she continued in her letter. “This individual will be a poor representative of the Ottawa Police Service and a liability to the organization.”
When reached for comment, the applicant said he had been advised by friends and family to not discuss the events on Hilda Street. When asked if he had previously received a rejection letter from the service or if he had comment on the investigator’s resignation in light of his background check, the applicant said: “At this point I won’t be able to speak to you about anything about the Ottawa police.”
The investigator’s report found that the applicant had a handful of speeding infractions, four licence suspensions and had attempted to get a new licence while his was suspended. Benson found 16 convictions under the Highway Traffic Act.
Benson also raised red flags regarding a 2013 incident where the applicant falsely phoned police, according to the report. Police found he had a history of negative behaviour when pulled over by police and that he had several different dates of birth on file.
Benson also found inconsistencies in the application. The applicant had said he was selected by the Somali government for a program, but the report found that a friend had actually been selected and that the friend asked the applicant to go in his place instead.
The application was, however, supported by multiple letters of recommendation from people already employed at the police force.
Benson’s letter of resignation says: “I have lost faith in the integrity of the constable selection process .”
“I cannot continue in good conscience and I refuse to compromise my own work ethic. I must stand by my own principles, ethics, and integrity.”
When reached for comment, Benson said that resigning from her job was “the most difficult decision I have had to make in my professional career.” She would not address the specifics of her resignation but said she stands by her letter of resignation.
“The process did not fail, the decision makers did,” she said.
Seventeen of the 19 offers extended by the police service have since been accepted.
Bordeleau flatly said that none of the offers was related to the events on July 24, when Abdi was arrested by police.
“Many members of our diverse communities have not traditionally seen policing as a viable career choice,” Bordeleau said. “This is a barrier we need to overcome. We do so by outreach recruiting to diverse communities. We call on members of the community and our own sworn and civilian members to identify potential recruits.”
There are currently eight other employees — five officers and three civilians — who identify as Somali-Canadian on the force.
Bordeleau said he would not be commenting on personnel matters.
“As with all recruits who join our service, we welcome them and will support all of them to be successful in their policing careers,” he said.
Bordeleau also said he is “proud to have them join our ranks and I know they are proud to serve their community.”
The applicant had tweeted about the arrest that grounded Abdi. Some of those tweets, critical of the police union and officer responses, have since been deleted.
The Special Investigations Unit continues to probe whether Ottawa police officers are responsible for, or contributed to, Abdi’s death.