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'My deepest apologies': Judge offers rare apology to Umar Zameer after trial sheds new light on case

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A notably different version of events than what was first described by police and politicians came into focus over the course of Umar Zameer’s five-week murder trial in Toronto, culminating in a rare move by the presiding judge.

After a jury acquitted Zameer of the first-degree murder charge he faced in connection with the death of Toronto Police Det. Const. Jeffrey Northrup, Justice Anne Molloy offered the 34-year-old an apology for his troubles.

“Mr. Zameer, you’re free to go, sir,” Molloy told him in the courtroom Sunday. “You have my […] deepest apologies for what you have been through.”

Northrup died on July 2, 2021 after being struck by Zameer’s BMW in the public parking lot underneath Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. The officer had rushed the vehicle alongside his partner, Lisa Forbes, both in plainclothes, while investigating a stabbing that had just taken place nearby, the court heard.

Umar Zameer and defence lawyers Alexandra Heine and Nader Hasan are shown in this courtroom sketch as Justice Anne Molloy and jury members look on in Toronto on Thursday, March 21, 2024. (The Canadian Press/Alexandra Newbould)

Zameer, with his pregnant wife and young son at the time, has always maintained he did not know the people approaching his BMW were police officers.

He attempted to escape the confrontation, first reversing his BMW and striking Northrup, before driving forward and fleeing the scene, according to evidence presented in court.

At trial, prosecutors alleged Zameer knew Northrup was a police officer, and that he drove directly at the man. Northrup was almost 300 pounds and stood 6'3"; "He was huge and visible," Crown counsel Karen Simone told the court.

The defence’s case, on the other hand, presented a very different version of events – Zameer had gone downtown that day for a regular family outing, accompanied by his pregnant wife and small child. He had feared for his life when he saw three individuals run at him, and acted out of fear, they argued.

Zameer had no criminal record and, even if he had known the individuals were police officers, would have had no reason to flee, his lawyers suggested.

The defence has also alleged that officers who testified during the trial lied repeatedly under oath. Lawyer Nader Hasan told the court that three officers who witnessed the incident, including Forbes, lied in the witness box, stating Northrup was standing in the middle of the laneway in front of Zameer's car, visible and with his hands outstretched when he was run over.

Molloy echoed this claim in her charge to the jury Thursday, stating the officer's testimony didn’t match the physical evidence and advising the 12-person panel to watch out for possible collusion.

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

Zameer broke into loud sobs as the jury handed down its verdict. His wife, Aaida Shaikh, cried into the shoulders of family members. Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse shortly after, Zameer apologized for the accident.

“I am sorry for what had happened, but I never meant for any of this to happen like this,” the Brampton accountant and father of three said.

Umar Zameer speaks to members of the media outside the courthouse following his not guilty verdict, in Toronto, Sunday, April 21, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Sunday’s acquittal drew disappointment from Northrup’s family and fellow police officers.

Northup’s widow spoke in front of the courthouse on Sunday afternoon, telling reporters she was “very disappointed” in the outcome.

“From day one, all I’ve wanted was accountability,” Northrup said. “We miss Jeff every day. However, we continue on with him in our hearts, never to be forgotten, a hero in life not death.”

About an hour after the decision, TPS Chief Myron Demkiw called the loss of Northrup “devastating” in a statement in which he said the service had hoped the jury would reach a “different outcome.”

When asked if the service would address allegations of perjury from its officers, Demkiw said Sunday wasn’t the time, telling reporters, “We’ll talk later.”

However on Monday, Toronto’s police chief asked the province’s police watchdog to conduct an “independent review” following concerns raised about the reliability of officer testimony in the Zameer trial.

“Whenever the Toronto Police Service becomes aware of concerns raised by the judiciary, its governance requires that a review be conducted with respect to officer testimony, conduct, procedures, practices, and training,” a statement issued by Denkiw read in-part. 

When asked by reporters Monday at an unrelated press conference if the case could spark any policy change within the Toronto police service, mayor Olivia Chow said any operational or human resource matters within TPS fall under the Chief’s jurisdiction. For matters of policy, she pointed to the board.

“I trust that process,” Chow said. “It's really, at the end of the day, up to the chief to manage the police services and it's not my place to comment on.”

Margaret Northrup, widow of Det. Const. Jeffrey Northrup reacts following a not guilty verdict of Umar Zameer, in Toronto on Sunday, April 21, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

The details revealed throughout the trial built a new understanding of Northrup's death and how the events of July 2 unfolded.

The day Northrup was killed, the then-chief of Toronto police, James Ramer, called the incident a “deliberate” killing. The officer died after being "intentionally" struck by a vehicle near City Hall overnight, Ramer told reporters in a press conference.

READ MOREMan charged with first-degree murder in 'deliberate' killing of Toronto police officer

Weeks later, politicians and public figures disavowed the decision to release Zameer on bail, with Premier Doug Ford calling the judge’s decision “beyond comprehension.”

“Our justice system needs to get its act together and start putting victims and their families ahead of criminals,” the premier said on social media.

The Premier’s office has not responded to a request for comment on Sunday’s acquittal.

Mayor at the time, John Tory, said it was “almost impossible to imagine a circumstance in which an accused in a case of first-degree murder would be granted bail.”

“The fact we don't know the reasons why the presiding judge made such an extraordinary decision thanks to a publication ban is very troubling, it is wrong, and represents one more argument supporting my longstanding call for bail reform,” the former mayor wrote. “We should all know the reasons that lie behind such a questionable decision.”

In a statement issued on Monday, Tory addressed his earlier comments, and noted his belief in ensuring some of the significant information surrounding the bail decision is made “widely known.”

“…There are many learnings. The first for me would be, despite pressure from the media and the public to comment on these kinds of matters, one should wait until significantly important information is available including judicial reasons,” the statement reads in-part.

The second, he sates, is that the judicial systems owes it to the public, public officials and the media “to do a better job of ensuring some of that significant information surrounding bail decisions is made widely known.” 

The face of Northrup is seen on a display at his his funeral service, in Toronto on Monday, July 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Criminal defence lawyer Daniel Brown, who was not associated with the Zameer case, said it serves as a reminder of “how important and fragile the presumption of innocence is” in Canada.

“Our police chief and political leaders were quick to toss aside that protection to push their own political agendas,” Brown said.

Brown told CTV News the city should be able to expect police will uphold the law and that officers will not approach any case with a specific agenda. He called Chief Demkiw's comments on a hope for a different outcome “equal parts chilling and disturbing.”

“The pursuit of a murder charge against Mr. Zameer and the failure of top police officials to accept Sunday’s jury verdict as being correct is suggestive of tunnel vision on the part of the prosecutors and police that underlies other wrongful convictions,” the lawyer said.

Following Sunday’s verdict, Hasan offered a thank you to supporters.

“When we first took on this case, there was a lot of hatred directed towards my client. But they didn’t know the truth,” Hasan wrote. “Now Canadians know.”

Speaking outside the courthouse on Sunday, Zameer closed his remarks with an expression of gratitude -- to his lawyers, whom he called "angels, but also to Canadians.

“I can’t thank enough Canada as a whole," he said.

"I thought Aaida and I made a wrong decision when we came to Canada [..] but now I see that Canada did not let an injustice happen.”

Umar Zameer and his lawyers walk away from the courthouse following his not guilty verdict, in Toronto, Sunday, April 21, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

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