By Mira Williamson ––
A long-time anti-racism activist is joining the call for the president of the Ottawa Police Association (OPA) to step down, saying the service’s response to his alleged misogynistic statement about a grieving Black woman has been inadequate.
“I personally think it’s reflective of police culture,” said Mojdeh Cox, a campaign strategist in Ottawa who has devoted her career to anti-racism and human rights actions. “Unfortunately, someone like [Matt] Skof cannot be afforded mistakes like this.”
Skof has been under fire since the Ottawa-based Justice for Abdirahman Coalition called for his resignation last Friday after a voice recording of the offensive comments started circulating on social media. It has not been confirmed that the audio is the unedited voice of Skof, but the recording has prompted an Ottawa Police Service (OPS) investigation.
The recording dates back to 2016, when the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition was formed following Abdirahman Abdi’s death during a violent altercation with police. Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is still investigating the case.
In the audio recording, a man’s voice can be heard saying the coalition’s spokesperson has been “a f****** c*** to the staff here” and that she exhibited “completely manipulative behaviour.”
Cox said she was alarmed to hear a grieving Black woman described in the terms used in the audio file. The incident made her feel unsafe, she said.
“When I see an officer, I don’t feel safe—I feel threatened,” she said. “The president should step down and nobody should be represented by him.”
The police association has not adequately responded to the recording, is not being transparent with an investigation and is not being held accountable, Cox said.
Cox wants to see the association investigate and apply the appropriate discipline, as well as a public review of all of the association’s police practices, she said.
In a separate incident, Skof was charged with a breach of trust and obstruction of justice in January 2019. Skof was suspended until January 2020. That incident was also related to an audio recording, but he remained head of Ottawa’s police union during that time.
The Ontario Provincial Police are still investigating Skof for a breach of trust and obstruction of justice, and told the OPS that the new recording did not add to the charges.
Once the criminal investigation is complete, the OPS will complete a Professional Standard Section (PPS) investigation into all the recordings, including the latest one. In a statement, Ottawa police said they have reached out to the Justice for Abdirahman spokesperson to offer support.
The service has condemned the language used in the 2016 audio recording, calling it “offensive, reprehensible and unacceptable under any circumstance,” in a statement.
Justice for Abdirahman Coalition’s press release calling for Skof’s removal or firing was jointly signed by 16 organizations and the author of Addressing Anti-Black Racism in Ottawa Report.
Keeping Skof on as president while he was suspended signals that his “comments are representative of the ongoing corruption and culture of racism and misogyny that plagues the Ottawa Police Service,” the release said.
Western Journalism Studio reached out to the OPP, the police association and the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition but did not receive a response by the time of publication. We will update the story if we do get a response.
Cox said many people of colour have looked at ways to stay safe without the police for years and their tax dollars are still used to fund police operations that many don’t feel safe using.
She is encouraged that the discourse of defunding the police has moved from the fringes of society to people in authority positions and decision-makers, and that more people are actively engaging with allyship, she said.
“I’m raising four black children,” said Cox. “I have to be hopeful otherwise, you know, it’s our existence that we’re talking about here. So I think that my level of optimism is very cautious out there.”
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