Wait for answers 'devastating' for family of police shooting victim

Months after a 43-year-old mentally ill man was shot to death at the Morrisburg OPP detachment, his family is still in the dark and they're troubled the province is now mothballing proposed reforms to police oversight.

Babak Saidi, 43, was fatally shot at the Morrisburg OPP detachment last December

Elly Saidi, seen here with a picture of herself and her brother Babak Saidi, is still waiting for answers about the circumstances that led to her brother being shot at the Morrisburg OPP detachment last December. (Susan Burgess)

Months after a 43-year-old mentally ill man was shot to death at the Morrisburg OPP detachment, his family is still in the dark and they're troubled the province is now mothballing proposed reforms to police oversight. 

"It's devastating," said Elly Saidi, Babak Saidi's sister. "My mom still holds my brother's picture in her arms and cries."

A court order required Babak Saidi to check in at the detachment weekly, according to his sister. The visits over the previous several months had been quick and uncomplicated, she said, but the visit December 23 went very wrong.

According to the province's Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which investigates deaths involving police, Saidi entered the detachment around noon and was shot after an interaction with officers.

Babak Saidi, 43, was shot by police last December at the OPP detachment in Morrisburg. (Angelina Ouimet)

Saidi's father, Mehrab Saidi, had driven Babak Saidi to the detachment and witnessed the incident, Elly Saidi said. Her father told her when they first arrived at the detachment, they rang a buzzer to be admitted, but were asked to return later for the check-in.

When they returned, two officers were waiting outside, and Mehrab Saidi watched his son go into the detachment with them. Some time later, he observed three people including his son struggling at the exit, and heard two shots. 

Elly Saidi said she served as an interpreter when SIU investigators came to interview her father, but since then, the agency has told them almost nothing. She said she learned this week the officer who is the subject of the investigation has not yet been interviewed and isn't required to submit to one.  

A coroner called to inform her that her brother had actually been shot five times, but they still have many questions. 

"It's been very, very hard on the family," Saidi said. "We're all trying to move forward to some sort of a closure without having answers and explanation."

In an email, a SIU spokesperson told CBC the investigation was ongoing and the agency is prohibited from speaking about it. 

Babak Saidi, 43, was shot to death at the Morrisburg, Ont., OPP detachment on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017. The province's police watchdog is investigating, but Saidi's family says the wait for answers is painful. (Submitted by Elly Saidi)

SIU previously involved with victim, family says

Saidi said her family experienced the SIU's secrecy previously when it investigated another incident involving her brother and Morrisburg OPP officers.

In July 2014, Saidi said her brother, who had schizophrenia, called her in a mental health crisis, saying someone was trying to kill him. She urged him to call police and when she called back she heard him interacting with officers.

Saidi said the next morning her brother was near death in hospital, where he remained in an induced coma for several days.

Elly Saidi said she and her family have struggled to move on following her brother's death as they wait for details about what happened the day he was shot. 0:56

Babak Saidi had no clear memory of what had happened. Saidi said the SIU told her that because no charges were laid, there was no report available. The family has been unable to find out what triggered the health crisis that landed Babak Saidi in intensive care.

CBC sought details from the SIU about the 2014 incident.

In an email, the agency confirmed it did investigate Morrisburg OPP in relation to an incident on July 15 that year, but said it could not confirm if it involved Saidi

"As the medical evidence indicated that the man did not suffer a serious injury, the investigation was terminated," said the email.

Shelved law would have made SIU more transparent

Saidi expressed disappointment at the province's recent decision to forgo implementation of a law to bring greater transparency to the SIU.

Last month, Premier Doug Ford gave notice new SIU legislation set to come into force on June 30 would be at least delayed, because the government wanted to do a "full and thorough review."

The act's proposed reforms drew on recommendations from Justice Michael Tulloch, who the previous Liberal government commissioned to develop ways to strengthen police oversight.

It was celebrated by civil society groups including the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, which formed after the death of Ottawa's Abdirahman Abdi, but was opposed by several police unions. The Ottawa Police Association endorsed the Progressive Conservative Party in large measure because of that party's promise to change the legislation.

Had the law taken effect June 30, it would have imposed a 120-day target to complete an investigation, and if they failed, they would need to issue a public statement every 60 days until it was completed. 

The shelved law also required the SIU to inform the public if charges were laid, and if they didn't lay charges they had to publish a detailed report on why.  

Family wants coroner's inquest

Other legislation the government is reviewing would make a coroner's inquest mandatory in every death caused by police use of force.

Saidi said she supports that and would welcome an inquest into her brother's death.

"Whether there's a charge laid or not, I would really love to understand," Saidi said. "I don't want my brother's death to be a waste."

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