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Justice Anne Molloy, top, looks on as defence lawyers Nader Hasan, left, and Alexandra Heine, second from right, place their hands on the shoulders of their client Umar Zameer, as Zameer's wife Aaida Shaikh, right, looks on during the reading of the verdict in a courtroom sketch, in Toronto on April 21.Alexandra Newbould/The Canadian Press

The Ontario Provincial Police will review how the Toronto force handled the case of Umar Zameer, who was acquitted of first-degree murder in the death of an officer after a jury trial in which the judge questioned the accuracy of police testimony.

Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw requested the OPP review and acknowledged criticism of his comments over the weekend, when he said he and his officers “were hoping for a different outcome” in the case. Mr. Zameer ran over an officer after he and his family were approached in their car by plainclothes officers in an underground garage.

“Perhaps closure in a tragic event of this magnitude will come with time. As chief, I was acknowledging the emotions many of us were feeling, while struggling with the death of a fellow officer, but of course, closure can never come at the expense of justice,” he said.

Chief Demkiw said an independent review is automatic when concerns are raised by judges about officer testimony or conduct.

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Acting Staff Sergeant Robert Simpson of the OPP confirmed in an e-mail that the force would conduct the review, but did not provide more details about what that process would look like.

Criminal-defence lawyers said Monday the prosecution of Mr. Zameer never should have made it to trial, and an independent prosecutor should have been asked to oversee the prosecution instead of local prosecutors overseen by the Ontario government.

Toronto police Detective Constable Jeffrey Northrup was in plainclothes when Mr. Zameer ran him over with his car in the parking garage at Toronto City Hall on July 2, 2021. Mr. Zameer’s release on bail nearly three years ago prompted public outrage, with Ontario Premier Doug Ford calling it “incomprehensible,” and other Toronto-area mayors joining in the criticism.

But the decision of the bail judge, whose reasons were covered by a publication ban, can now be reported in detail. The decision shows that, from its earliest stages, the prosecution was perceived to be weak.

“There is no evidence of any motive for Mr. Zameer to want to kill a police officer, or to kill anyone, for that matter,” wrote then-Ontario Superior Court Justice Jill Copeland in September, 2021. (She has since been promoted to the Ontario Court of Appeal.) She also questioned whether he even knew Det. Constable Northrup was an officer.

Police announced that Mr. Zameer had deliberately run over Det. Constable Northrup, but police did not make public that Mr. Zameer told police when he was arrested that he didn’t know Det. Constable Northrup was an officer, and that he had not seen the officer when he ran him over. Moreover, police did not say Mr. Zameer, then a 31-year-old recent immigrant, was with his wife, who was eight months pregnant, and their two-year-old son, having just celebrated their first Canada Day.

(Police approached his car because a man had been stabbed and the purported suspect was a brown-skinned man. Mr. Zameer has brown skin.)

Mr. Zameer’s defence was that he thought the people banging on his car window were criminals, and he was terrified and tried to get away by reversing his car because a black van driven by another plainclothes officer had mostly blocked his way forward.

On Monday, Chief Demkiw announced an internal review of policies around the use of plainclothes officers in addition to the OPP review.

“A certain narrative was created at a time when the police were in control of all of the information – an unfortunate narrative that put Mr. Zameer in the position of a deliberate, intentional killer,” lawyer Frank Addario, who was not involved in the case, said in an interview.

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Mr. Zameer and his lawyers walk away from the courthouse after his not guilty verdict in Toronto on April 21.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

In the killing of a police officer, the Crown does not need to prove planning and deliberation to obtain a first-degree murder conviction; they merely need to show that the accused knew the victim was an officer and intended to kill.

The trial judge – Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy, who has been on the bench for three decades – told jurors they had to consider whether the three police witnesses colluded, because they all gave the same incorrect testimony.

Echoing the bail judge’s ruling, Justice Molloy repeatedly questioned whether the prosecution had the evidence it needed. And she added fuel to the legal community’s questions about the prosecution when, after the jury acquittal, she took the rare step of expressing her “deepest apologies” to Mr. Zameer for what he’d been through.

“I’ve never heard of it,” criminal-defence lawyer Reid Rusonik, who was called to the bar in 1989, said of such an apology. Her comment suggested it was a “completely unfair prosecution,” he said, noting judges don’t apologize for charges laid when there is a reasonable chance of conviction.

He called the police action in laying charges “an extension of the ‘thin-blue-line’ psychology: It’s us against them, and one of them hurt one of us, and they have to pay for it, whether they’re criminally liable or not.”

Mr. Addario said an independent prosecutor should have been put in charge of the case, in recognition of the close relationship between the Crown’s office and police.

The Ontario Attorney-General’s Ministry did not respond to requests for comment. Neither Mr. Ford nor Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown apologized for, or even mentioned, their previous public statements on Mr. Zameer’s bail release. (Mr. Ford called it incomprehensible, and Mr. Brown labelled it disgusting.)

Former Toronto mayor John Tory, who also criticized the bail release, said he had learned some things, but that the courts should be more transparent about why someone is released on bail.

The officers would testify Det. Constable Northrup stood in front of the car, his arms outstretched to signal Mr. Zameer to stop. Yet the prosecution’s own expert in accident reconstruction rejected that view, saying there was no damage to the bumper or the hood, not even a dust disturbance, said Nader Hasan, lead counsel for Mr. Zameer. Security video did not show the officer in the laneway in which he supposedly held his arms up. The defence expert determined that Det. Constable Northrup was in a blind spot, behind Mr. Zameer and to the side, Mr. Hasan said.

Boris Bytensky, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, offered a different view: That seeing a colleague run over and killed was highly stressful. “Your powers of observation under intense stress are not great. There’s an element of saying things you want to believe are true.”

Alison Craig, a criminal-defence lawyer, said it seemed “like it was obvious to everybody that what the officers said happened did not happen. And so why the prosecution was allowed to continue I do not understand.”

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