Peel Regional Police are reviewing how they respond to situations involving people with autism following an incident in Mississauga earlier this month that saw 19-year-old Abdullah Darwich, who is autistic and non-verbal, Tasered by officers.
In their first public statement about the incident, Peel police acknowledged what occurred has had a “severe impact” on Darwich, his family and the community.
They added that the force’s senior leadership team met with the Darwich family last week to discuss the incident.
While the details of what was discussed were not released, police said that in light of the incident, they are “evaluating how we identify and constructively engage people with autism.”
“We are currently in the process of consulting subject matter experts to identify how we can better serve this community through increased collaboration and opportunities to strengthen training,” they added.
According to police, on the evening of Nov. 4, officers responded to reports of someone “in a state of undress, attempting to enter a vehicle and a house.”
When they arrived, officers, who police claimed did not know Darwich’s identity and condition at the time, attempted to communicate with him, but they were unsuccessful.
Police confirmed that Darwich was subsequently apprehended after officers deployed their conductive energy weapon (or Taser).
He was brought to the hospital for treatment and was later released to his family.
Darwich’s father, Majd, criticized how police handled the situation that left his son injured and traumatized.
Majd told CP24 he felt like he was going to have a heart attack when he saw his son with a bloodied face lying on the ground that Friday evening.
Majd said what the police did was unacceptable. “They don’t know anything about autism,” he said in an interview on Nov. 10. “They just deal with anybody in front of them as a criminal, which is very dangerous.”
The incident is now under review, and the “totality of the circumstances are being reviewed,” police said.
They have also advised Majd that he can file a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.
In Wednesday’s statement, police also said they’re looking into exploring opportunities to get timelier access to the Vulnerable Persons Registry and “innovative approaches to alert officers of the specific need that an individual may have.”
Darwich is listed in the registry, which “allows the caregivers and/or parents of vulnerable people to submit vital information that will be used by emergency services during a crisis situation.” Among the information asked are a photo of the individual and “methods of approach if found.”
But police have previously said that the registry “is only effective” when they are alerted to someone’s presence on it, which was “not the case” in the Nov. 4 incident.
“I thought when I came to Canada that the police would protect and help him if he ran away from my house,” Majd said. “I never imagined that they would do what they did.”