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Doug Ford shouldn't politicize court cases, Ontario opposition says after Umar Zameer's aquittal

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Ontario’s opposition leaders are warning Premier Doug Ford against politicizing the judicial system after a man whose bail he once publicly question was acquitted.

Umar Zameer was found not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Toronto Police Det. Const. Jeffrey Northrup on Sunday following a five-week trial.

A jury heard that he was with his pregnant wife and young son in a parking garage when plainclothes officers rushed the vehicle while investigating a stabbing he was not involved in.

Zameer said he did not know the people approaching his vehicle were police officers, and told the court that he feared for his life and tried to drive away.

Northrup was in his blind spot, the defence argued, and was run over.

Testimony from officers at the scene was questioned by the judge overseeing the trial, who suggested that based on expert testimony Northrup was not standing in the middle of the laneway and visible to Zameer as the Crown claimed.

The jury agreed and Justice Anne Molloy offered him an apology on his way out of the courtroom.

A courtroom sketch of the jury that acquitted Umar Zameer, seen behind Crown attorney Karen Simon. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould

Zameer’s case drew immediate attention from politicians in the aftermath of the 2021 incident.

When he was released on bail there was a public outcry, with Ford posting on social media the decision was “beyond comprehension.”

“It’s completely unacceptable that the person charged for this heinous crime is now out on bail,” he wrote on X. “Our justice system needs to get its act together and start putting victims and their families ahead of criminals.”

Then-mayor John Tory echoed the statement, saying publicly that it was “almost impossible to imagine a circumstance in which an accused in a case of first-degree murder would be granted bail.”

Speaking to reporters on Monday, New Democratic Party Leader Marit Stiles said that her thoughts are with both families impacted.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to politicize the tragedy that we saw unfold here,” she said. “I hope that if the premier takes any lesson from this, it’s that it’s best not to try to politicise a case that’s underway.”

Liberal Parliamentary Leader John Fraser suggested that Ford should apologize for making the comment in the first place.

“We keep our politicians and our judges and our court system separate. We do that for a reason. For the premier and I think John Tory to comment on that, a specific case, was wrong, totally wrong.”

Fraser went on to suggest that Ford make the comment to “chase headlines” and that Ontarians should be concerned about the premier’s use of phrases such as “like-minded judges” following this case.

“So I guess what he means by that is people who would be prepared not to listen to the evidence. It's a big concern,” Fraser said. “It’s not our job. It's not our business. We don't need to politicise the courts.”

Ford has been highly criticized for appointing registered lobbyists to a committee that recommends judges, saying he did so because he wanted like-minded individuals in the roles.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, as well as opposition parties, have said that judicial appointments remain non-partisan.

With files from CTV News Toronto's Abby O'Brien

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