Ahmed Mahamud Ali escaped war-torn Somalia in the 1980s and came to Canada with “the hopes and dreams of a better life,” a packed courtroom was told Monday.
Ali ended up in Yellowknife, driving a taxi and used his earnings to support members of the Somalian community here and abroad, including a group of 35 orphaned children in his homeland.
Those details the court learned through a series of 14 victim impact statements delivered on Monday at the start of a sentencing hearing in NWT Supreme Court.
Ali was found unconscious in his cab outside Stanton Territorial Hospital in November 2018. He was pronounced dead shortly after being discovered.
Teenager Elias Schiller had earlier pleaded guilty to manslaughter. His father, James Schiller, had admitted being an accessory to aggravated assault.
“His death has left a void in the heart of those children and our families,” a family member’s statement read. “We lost a strong pillar. But as Muslims, we are taught to forgive.
“Although it is not easy, we are trying to forgive those involved in the death of my uncle.”
A long-time friend of Ali, addressing the court in a shaky, tearful voice, offered forgiveness to Ali’s killer. “I forgive you, brother.”
An argument and a chase
The City Cab driver died after being assaulted in the early morning of November 19 by an intoxicated passenger – the younger Schiller, then aged 18 – who chased Ali down and “beat him to death on a public street,” Crown attorney Jill Andrews told the court.
James Schiller, 49 at the time, has pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact as he had attempted to cover up the crime and help his son avoid arrest. He has been on bail since last March.
The 73-year-old Ali had picked up Schiller from the Fraser Arms on 51 Street at 3:31am and had driven him to Schiller’s house on Wilkinson Crescent. There, the two had an argument – Ali had asked for the fare to be paid in advance – and Ali shoved Schiller and ran from his cab.
“He was chased and beaten to death … by his angry young customer,” said Andrews, as a dozen members of the Somali community looked on from the public gallery.
Members of the Somali community attended the sentencing hearing for two men involved in the death of cab driver Ahmed Mahamud Ali. James O’Connor/Cabin Radio
Schiller’s family and supporters sat on the other side of the room, behind the father and son, who were at the defence table with their lawyers.
“Considerable force was used to cause injury to Mr Ali … all of his injuries were to his head and neck,” said Andrews.
“This is very serious, very dangerous, and very blameworthy conduct.”
Anonymous phone call
After the attack, Elias Schiller went back and forth from the unconscious cab driver to his house, where his father was inside, for some 25 minutes.
“What exactly did they do for 25 minutes?” asked Andrews.
The Schillers eventually made a decision to drive the unconscious Ali to hospital and leave him in the back seat of his cab with the engine running. He was pulled into the back seat of his car by his head, the court heard.
It’s unknown exactly when Ali died. The Schillers believed he was still alive when they left him.
James Schiller left the cab outside Stanton Territorial Hospital and walked to a pay phone where he called the hospital at 4:42am. In a disguised voice, he said an injured person needed help in the parking lot.
A nurse and security guard couldn’t initially locate Ali following that call.
At 4:47am, with the cab company now also searching for Ali, his cab was located and his body found inside, the court heard.
James Schiller, meanwhile, walked home and started to shovel snow from his yard onto the street to cover the blood left from the attack. This was to no avail as, when RCMP arrived later that morning to the location of Ali’s final fare, they saw the blood on the road.
Canvassing the neighbourhood, officers asked the elder Schiller where he and his son were earlier that day. They were told both had been at home all night.
“It was at this time James Schiller learned Mr Ali was deceased,” said Andrews.
Six years sought
The Crown is seeking a sentence of six years for Elias Schiller, while the defence is seeking four years. Schiller has no criminal record and has been in custody for 435 days, meaning he will have approximately 652 days of pre-trial credit.
A pre-sentence report detailed troubling circumstances in his upbringing. He is also an Indigenous offender, so Gladue factors apply. (The longstanding Gladue principle, named after Cree woman Jamie Tanis Gladue, requires judges to take into consideration unique systemic or background factors facing Indigenous peoples in order to arrive at an appropriate sentence.)
As for James Schiller – who has a dated criminal record with no related offences – the Crown and defence have agreed on a sentence recommendation of six months, meaning he will serve no further time owing to his time spent in custody prior to being released on bail.
The Schillers were originally charged with second-degree murder, but the charges were downgraded after a short preliminary inquiry last fall.
“The evidence and theory of the Crown’s case that has developed supports charges of manslaughter and accessory to aggravated assault,” Andrews told Cabin Radio at the time.
The Schillers’ defence lawyers made their arguments on Monday afternoon. Through their lawyers, both men expressed remorse for their actions. They will address the court themselves on Tuesday morning before Justice Andrew Mahar renders his decision.
The killing of Ali shook the local cab industry. After his death, taxi drivers organized a procession through Yellowknife in December 2018 with at least 90 cabs attending.
His death also prompted drivers to push for greater security measures to keep them safe. Some cab drivers have cameras in their cars, and City Cab said the company was installing panic buttons.
“I have never viewed my customers as a threat to me … now I fear everybody while working,” said a fellow cab driver and friend of Ali in a victim impact statement on Monday.
“Now everyone is a threat. I’m afraid to pick up customers from certain areas.
“This case will be an example of what will happen to people [who attack] cab drivers.”