‘Ottawa’ Abdi Case Only the Second Time an Ottawa Officer has Faced SIU Manslaughter Charge
A quarter century before the death of Abdirahman Abdi, another Ottawa officer stood accused of manslaughter by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.
And like Abdi’s death, accusations of racial bias surrounded the Sept. 26, 1991 shooting of James Gardner.
Gardner, who was black, was among a group of 12 people, including several reggae musicians practising that evening in a house at 22 Gould St., when seven officers of the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Drug Unit conducted a raid.
Const. John Monette, a white officer with the former Nepean Police Service, was climbing the stairs to the second floor when he saw Gardner approaching from the living room. Monette described what happened next at his 1993 trial on charges of manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death and bodily harm, and aggravated assault.
“Stop, police!” Monette yelled. “Stop, police!”
The man kept coming, Monette testified, so he fired one shot from his revolver, striking Gardner in the abdomen. Monette thought Gardner was carrying a shotgun — police had been warned there might be weapons in the house. It turned out to be a bass guitar, a headless model that didn’t have the characteristic tuning keys at the end of its stock.
Gardner died in hospital 51 days after the shooting, although whether it was from the bullet wound or the liver cancer the doctors discovered when they operated was never determined.
The jury of all white men and women deliberated just two hours before acquitting Monette of all charges.
“No justice,” said Garth Gardner, the victim’s son, after the verdict was delivered. “This system here does not care for us,” he told reporters. “What it’s telling black people is: Be prepared. Duck. Because if you don’t duck, a police officer has the authorization to shoot you.”
Meanwhile, Monette’s lawyer, Edward Greenspon, described his client as “colour blind,” and an “honourable, decent, compassionate” man who was wounded by the “mindless allegations” of racism carried in some media reports.
Gardner’s death was the subject of a 1996 coroner’s inquest that recommended better standards for such things as search warrants and strip searches, and advised police to develop a better understanding of different cultures.
Monette retired in 2016 after a long career, including years in the major crimes unit investigating some of the city’s most notorious murders, including convicted serial killer Camille Cléroux.
The Gardner and Abdi deaths remain the only cases in which Ottawa officers have been charged with culpable homicide by the province’s Special Investigations Unit. Such charges are rare. Since its inception in 1990, the SIU has laid 20 culpable homicide charges against police officers, including three murder charges, 11 manslaughter charges and six of criminal negligence causing death.