Many disturbing questions remain after Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) shot and killed 43-year-old Babak Saidi inside the detachment in Morrisburg, Ontario on Saturday, December 23, 2017. Saidi, who experienced schizophrenia, was under conditions to check in weekly at the detachment following a 2014 conviction for assault and battery. He had been making those weekly check-ins regularly before something went deeply wrong during the December 23 check-in. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that investigates police harm to civilians in Ontario, is investigating. They have assigned seven investigators to the scene. Morrisburg is 80 milometers south of the nation’s capital, Ottawa.
Babak Saidi headed to the Saturday morning check-in with a tin full of freshly baked muffins, a Christmas gift for his father and a family friend who were providing his ride to the detachment. For family, the muffins were a sign that Babak Saidi was in a good mood. Hi sister, Elly Saidi remembers him fondly: “My brother, he was the kindest, sweetest, most loving person. He had a mental disability, and we need to know how to deal with a person with mental disability” (quoted in Pritchard 2017).
Few details have been released publicly regarding what happened at the detachment, but his sister has provided her father’s view of events as he experienced and witnessed them. Elly Saidi reports that, according to her father, the three were told to wait about 15 minutes when they arrived at the police station. They decided to go do some grocery shopping, and when they returned, Babak Saidi left the car to go inside. In very short order the father would see his son the ground, with two officers on top of him. Babak Saidi was taken into the detachment by officers and, according to the father, two shots were heard within two minutes. The SIU has confirmed that Babak Saidi was the person struck by the officer fired shots and that he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Oddly, a police officer then told Saidi’s father and his friend to go to a nearby Tim Hortons and wait until someone arrived to explain what happened. After a few hours, police finally arrived to deliver an awful message in an apparently cold manner. According to Elly Saidi: “They waited for a few hours, and then the police came. My dad asked the police, ‘Where is my son?’ And the police officer told my dad that, sorry, your son is gone” (quoted in Pritchard 2017).
This was all the family was told about what happened, a full ten hours after the shooting. The family says this delay and the ongoing lack of information are “unacceptable.” They are, sadly, too common in cases of police killings of civilians in Canada.
In Elly Said’s words: “I have to be strong for my parents. It’s very hard to see my mom and my dad crying and being heartbroken. My mom was sitting in a corner of the room, hugging my brother’s picture. And all she’s saying is, ‘I don’t know what happened. I don’t know where his body is’” (quoted in Pritchard 2017). A worker with homeless youth in Ottawa, she says she needs to speak out because of the numerous cases of police violence, including lethal violence, inflicted on people with mental health issues in Canadian contexts. Reflecting on police in Canada, she says:
“They have absolutely no tools and no awareness to deal with people with mental disability. Too many people with mental disabilities have died at the hands of the police. They need to have education and awareness [of] how to deal with people with mental disability. And not [assume] they’re all bad and a menace to society.” (quoted in Pritchard 2017)
The SIU has reported that they will be interviewing the subject officer as well as 10 officers who were witnesses. One can only imagine how police witnesses to police killings will report events. There have been issues with timelines for interviewing police officers following police involved killings, with no assurances that officers will not compare and fix their stories.
Pritchard, Trevor. 2017. “Family Demands Answers After Fatal Shooting in Morrisburg, Ont. OPP Detachment.” CBC News. December 23. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/family-demands-answers-after-fatal-shooting-at-morrisburg-ont-opp-detachment-1.4463915