U of O students leading chants and cheers in support of Abdirahman Abdi. Photos: Graham Robertson.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

U of O students, SFUO participate in nation-wide protest at local police station

Students from the University of Ottawa joined others across the city at a rally held on Aug. 24 at the Ottawa police station to speak out against police brutality towards the black community.

The rally was part of a nation-wide movement organized by Black Lives Matter (BLM) Toronto in light of the death of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali man with autism who was killed by two Ottawa police officers in July 2016. The demonstration came exactly a month after Abdi’s death, with actions held in Vancouver, Edmonton, Mississauga, Kitchener, Winnipeg, and Hamilton on the same day.

The evening began with a traditional song from a group of Indigenous women, followed by a series of chants, music, speeches, and dancing. Abdi’s aunt also spoke at the rally, saying “We need safety—especially in the capital city, I never expected this would happen.”

There was a large youth presence at the rally, which was hosted by two U of O students, Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi and Faduma Wais, who are members of the Ottawa Black Diaspora, an Ottawa-based coalition which aims to combat anti-blackness. Moumouni-Tchouassi and Wais led a number of chants throughout the night which called for an end to anti-black violence.

Moumouni-Tchouassi also showed solidarity for other visible minorities in Canada in her chants, saying that “Indigenous lives matter. People of colour’s lives matter.”

Other U of O students who spoke included Mikayla Vattiata, a third-year student-activist, and Vanessa Dorimain, vice-president of university affairs for the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), both of whom also belong to the Ottawa Black Diaspora.

Several other members of the SFUO also showed support for the cause through attendance at the rally, such as president Roméo Ahimakin, vice-president of equity Morissa Ellis, and vice-president of services and communications Francesco Caruso.

In her speech, Dorimain called for “justice now,” saying that “we will ensure (Abdi’s) name is not forgotten,” which was met by cheers from the crowd.

Moumouni-Tchouassi echoed this same need for justice, demanding greater police accountability. “Have they called out their system?” she asked.

Moumouni-Tchouassi also asked that charges be laid against the officers involved in Abdi’s death and for a public release of the full Special Investigations Unit (SIU) report of the incident, along with any race-based data kept by the SIU.

In her speech, Vattiata said, “We still fear for our safety. When people say we are free, they are wrong. When people say it’s not always about race, show me.”

In an interview with the Fulcrum, Wais said, “It’s important to address why we’re doing this, and how (police brutality) is still happening. My black life matters just as much as your black life should. We never said all lives don’t matter, we just think at this moment, black lives need to matter.”

On the topic of student activism, Wais said that the student voice can “empower and make change.”

“I think it’s important as a youth activist to come out and support our community initiatives because that’s an extra voice out in the community,” said Wais.

Vattiata also spoke to the Fulcrum about the event and the importance of student engagement in the community.

“Half of our group were student organizers … It does take a toll on us for sure, but I think that the work that people in the community are doing is working, and we have so much support here.”

“I think today went well, and I’m excited to see what comes out of this, and when people will respond to our demands, how that process will go,” said Vattiata.

As of Aug. 24 the SIU has acknowledged BLM Toronto’s list of demands in an official statement. However, they have not yet commented on or responded to any of these demands.