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Vigil held in Montreal for Abdirahman Abdi, who died after struggle with Ottawa police

A vigil was held at Bethune Square to remember Abdirahman Abdi, who allegedly beaten to death by Ottawa police.
A vigil was held at Bethune Square to remember Abdirahman Abdi, who allegedly beaten to death by Ottawa police. Sylvain Trudeau / Global News

A vigil was held downtown Montreal Thursday to honour Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali-Canadian man who died in hospital after a violent struggle with Ottawa police on Sunday.

Abdi, 37, suffered from mental illness, according to family members.

He was filmed by a bystander allegedly being hit repeatedly by police officers.

He was taken to hospital in critical condition on Sunday, but died on Monday.

Protesters at the vigil, held near Concordia University, said they believe what happened was unacceptable.

The protest was organized by Montréal-Noir and Justice for the Victims of Police Killings Coalition, groups that suggest Canada is not immune to police brutality.

Robyn Maynard, a spokesperson for Montréal-Noir, said too many black people are dead at the hands of the police.

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She said Abdi’s vigil is the sixth she has attended since January.

“They need to stop racial profiling now,” Maynard said.

“Their treatment of our black communities are violent, are horrific and make our lives extremely difficult to live because of this generalized fear that there is.”

“I think they need to find just find another solution, there needs to be someone else that deals with people with mental health issues because the police are not able to do so in a manner that is safe for us.”

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READ MORE: Death of Abdirahman Abdi fuels calls for police training reforms

Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association, has said it would be “inappropriate” to imply race played a role in the incident.

“In a situation like this, race is simply a fact to the case. I mean, this is no different than gender or height,” said Skof, adding that police were responding to an assault-related call from the public, as required.

Skof said the suggestion that race was a motivating factor is being fuelled by events in the U.S., which he believes is misplaced.

READ MORE: Muslim group wants to know if racism played role in death of Ottawa man after arrest

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the province’s police watchdog, is now probing the actions of the two Ottawa police officers.

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Global News has learned the officers are Const. David Weir and Const. Daniel Montsion.

Neither officer has been charged.

Ottawa Police Service confirmed to Global News Wednesday the two officers are still on the job and there has been “no change to their status.”

With files from Global’s Shirlee Engel and The Canadian Press.