Babak Saidi was shot and killed by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) outside their Morrisburg detachment only minutes after his father dropped him off for a scheduled probation check-in on December 23, 2017. While little has been reported publicly about the details of the killing, as it rarely is in cases of police killings in Canada, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has designates a lone subject officer in their investigation. This means they believe that a sole officer fired the shot(s) that struck and killed Babak Saidi that day. As is unfortunately the standard practice in Canada the officer responsible for the killing has not been identified publicly. Saidi’s killing is being investigated by the provincial police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, which has assigned four investigators and three forensic specialists to the case.
The 43-year-old Saidi, whose was born in Iran but came to Canada as a refugee with his family, had been diagnosed with late onset schizophrenia and social paranoia according to his family. They are looking for answers and for mechanisms to address the ongoing use of violence by police toward people experiencing mental health issues.
In the words of Babak Saidi’s sister, Elly Saidi: “This is yet another shocking example of a lethal police response to an unarmed person with mental health disabilities. I want everyone to learn from this tragic experience” (quoted in Duffy 2018).
Babak Saidi had gone to the same OPP station more than 30 times — every week for nine months — in 2017. Elly Saidi says that the family remains very much in the dark about why his routine check-in at the police station so quickly turned deadly. In her words “It would be good to get an explanation for what happened. I don’t know what instigated it: Why this time was so different than every other time?” (quoted in Duffy 2018).
Saidi’s father, Mehrab Saidi (83), has reported hearing “multiple gunshots” while in his car, moments after dropping off his son at the detachment. He has also said that he was instructed by police to wait at a nearby coffee shop for more information and was only notified of his sons death hours later.
Elly Saidi is chief executive of United World Voices, a registered charity in Ottawa that works with homeless youth and vulnerable women. She says her brother was only diagnosed with schizophrenia early in 2017 as the family had not been able to get a diagnosis for him. In her words: “We told lawyers for many years he needs help. Like a lot of people in his position, they fall through the cracks. He should have been assessed and treated much earlier. We knew there was something wrong with him, but it was hard to get anyone to listen. That’s the frustrating part” (quoted in Duffy 2018).
In the view of Elly Saidi her brother should not have died in the encounter:
“What is beyond doubt is that OPP members involved in this tragedy were unable to peacefully de-escalate this situation. The OPP resorted to a lethal response to an unarmed individual with mental disabilities. I know that things can escalate from zero to 100 in a few seconds with mentally ill people. The police need to know how to deal with that, how to de-escalate and contain the situation.” (quoted in Duffy 2018)
Interestingly, Babak Saidi had publicly reported feeling harassed by local police in Brockville, Ontario, where he lived. During a 2003 court hearing, Saidi, then 29, told a judge that police in Brockville “have been on my ass for 10 years” (quoted in Duffy 2018). He continued, telling Ontario Court Justice Charles Anderson : “They don’t like me and I don’t like them” (quoted in Duffy 2018).
In 2017 Ontario’s Office of the Independent Police Review Director compiled records showing that 142 people were fatally shot during interactions with police between January 1990 and December 2016 (Duffy 2018). Calls for de-escalation training have been made repeatedly in studies and reviews on police violence and mental health with no meaningful improvements. At the end of the day police remain the unaccountable monopoly on violence acting with impunity in communities.
Duffy, Andrew. 2018. “Babak Saidi was Dropped off at OPP Detachment for Routine Check-In—Minutes Later He was Shot Dead.” Ottawa Citizen January 31. http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/babak-saidi-was-dropped-off-at-opp-detachment-for-routine-probation-check-in-minutes-later-he-was-shot-dead