Warning: This story contains language that may disturb and offend readers.
The head of Ottawa’s police union is facing calls to step down after he was allegedly caught on tape using a misogynistic slur in reference to a local activist.
The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, which led hundreds through the streets of Ottawa on Saturday in protest against police violence and systemic anti-Black racism in the capital, released a statement with 14 other groups on Friday afternoon calling for the resignation of Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association (OPA).
The statement included a link to a tweet from earlier in the month containing the audio recording at the centre of the accusations.
In the clip, a voice alleged to belong to Skof is heard referring to a female activist associated with the campaign seeking justice for Abdirahman Abdi as a “f–king c–t.”
Global News has not been able to verify the authenticity of the recording.
Abdi’s death in 2016 became one of the most prominent examples of police violence against a Black man in Ottawa. The trial against the officer charged with manslaughter in relation to his death, Const. Daniel Montsion, is ongoing.
“It is absolutely appalling that a police union leader, who represents all police officers in our city, directed such a despicably misogynistic epithet at a member of our coalition, who was not only grieving the violent death of Abdirahman Abdi, but calling for justice in his name,” writes the group in its statement.
The coalition and its co-signers call for Skof’s “immediate resignation and termination.”
The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition and its partner groups note that the language continues in a trend of diminishing the contributions of Black women to public discourse in Canada.
Dahabo Ahmed-Omer, the coalition’s co-founder, told Global News on Monday that she had to replay the clip a few times before she could fully grasp the upsetting content.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, to be frank with you. It’s one of the most derogatory, despicable things you can call a woman and when men use it, they know what it means,” she says.
In response to requests from Global News, Skof would not comment on whether it was his voice in the recording.
“As this alleged discussion may involve OPA staff and rental contracts, there is no comment,” Skof said in an email to Global News.
He also noted the police association operates as a separate entity from the Ottawa Police Service (OPS).
The OPS said in a statement Monday that it had first been made aware of the recording on Friday and subsequently passed the social media post on to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to determine whether the information was relevant to an ongoing investigation into other alleged audio recordings of Skof.
That investigation saw Skof charged with breach of trust and obstructing justice in January 2019, at which point Charles Bordeleau, then-Chief of the OPS, suspended him from the force. New OPS Chief Peter Sloly reinstated Skof in January of this year.
Skof remained president of the OPA during his suspension. Charges against Skof have not been proven in court.
“The OPP has advised that they are aware of this recording and it does not contribute to the evidence in relation to the charges,” the OPS said in its statement.
The OPP has not yet confirmed this information to Global News.
OPS internal review will include new recording
Beyond the OPP investigation, the OPS said the complaint will receive attention from its internal accountability division.
The OPS spokesperson said there is a concurrent Professional Standards Section (PSS) investigation into the earlier audio recordings that is waiting for the OPP’s criminal investigation to conclude before proceeding.
“The PSS investigation will review all related recordings (including this latest one) to determine whether there have been any violations of the Police Services Act or OPS policy,” the spokesperson wrote.
The OPS declined further comment on the latest recording, but noted the force had reached out to the woman referred to in the recording to offer support and denounced the language used as “offensive, reprehensible and unacceptable under any circumstance.”
Ahmed-Omer says the criminal charges and Skof’s alleged comments put an important question to members of his association about his fitness to lead the local police union.
If an investigation reveals any wrongdoing on his part, it’s their response that matters more than the comments themselves.
“It’s not how I feel about Matt Skof. It’s how I feel about the institution, the accountability around Matt. What is the institution going to do about someone that represents them? That’s what institutional change looks like,” she says.
With recent examples of police violence opening eyes around the world to systemic anti-Black racism, Ahmed-Omer believes now is the time for the local police institutions and individual officers to take action to prove they will protect Black lives.
“We’re in a new era now,” she says, adding she hopes OPA members raise their voices to push for a change in leadership.
Momentum continues into Saturday protest
Ahmed-Omer says it was ‘“incredible” to see such large crowds attending the coalition’s march for Black lives on Saturday just a few weeks after the initial anti-racism protest in downtown Ottawa.
She says the momentum to push for institutional change to address racism in Ottawa will continue with similar protests in the weeks ahead.
“It can no longer be ignored. There is this new sense of responsibility that is being birthed in people, that is being ignited in people, that we have never seen as a Black community,” she says.
“People are connecting the dots to say, ‘This is a complete systemic issue. This is not isolated.’”
Ahmed-Omer can point to numerous reports in recent years identifying issues of diversity and race relations in Ottawa, but notes these studies and recommendations are rarely followed by action.
She suggests there is fear of embracing change because many of those in power are worried about losing their positions if they acknowledge the role of white privilege in getting them there.
Advocates have put in years of work outlining the shape of racism in Ottawa, Ahmed-Omer says, and we must now dismantle these broken systems amid the emerging social consciousness surrounding issues affecting the city’s Black community.
“No one can wait anymore. We have waited way too long.“
— With files from Global News’s Abigail Bimman