Mayor Drew Dilkens is making no apologies for weighing in on the senseless and brutal murder of 75-year-old Sara Anne Widholm as she was taking her daily litter-picking walk on the Ganatchio Trail.
“I made the submission, I have no regrets doing it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Dilkens said in response to criticism of of his submitting a community impact statement to the sentencing hearing for Habibullah “Danny” Ahmadi.
Ahmadi was found guilty in November of second-degree murder for — while high on marijuana and magic mushrooms — randomly attacking Widholm in October 2017. The beating put Widholm into a coma from which she never recovered and sparked community outrage. She died in hospital 14 months later.
In one of the victim impact statement’s introduced on the first day of a sentencing hearing, the mayor described the day of the attack as “a day that shocked this community to its core.
“Things like this — the savage beating of Sara Anne — just don’t happen in Windsor.”
He wrote that Ahmadi, who was 21 at the time, “needs to know that his actions have deeply impacted our community in a way that will take decades for most to reconcile.”
Ahmadi’s lawyer, Patricia Brown, said that when she first read the mayor’s statement, she was taken aback: “It’s just disturbing.”
“This is very abnormal for a sitting mayor who is also a member of the police services board, who is a public figure in our community, to interject themselves into criminal proceedings,” she said. Dilkens is chairman of the Windsor Police Services Board.
Dilkens may want to express his concerns on behalf of the community, but his comment that “things like this … just don’t happen in Windsor,” is untrue, said Brown.
A quick Google search turns up numerous Windsor Star stories of horrific crimes committed during Dilkens’ tenure, she said. On Jan. 2, 2019, for example, the Star published a story recounting how 2018 — the year Widholm died — was one of the bloodiest years in recent Windsor history with 10 homicides.
“I felt it was a severe overstep on the part of a government official to intervene like that, and I felt also the substance of the letter was misleading,” said Brown.
There were other cases of elderly people viciously attacked, she found, like in 2016 when a man snuck up behind an 83-year-old woman walking along Ottawa Street and stabbed her repeatedly in the face, or in 2014 when an 85-year-old woman was murdered when her son attacked her with a hammer.
“I am not by any means minimizing Daniel Ahmadi’s conduct, I am just simply putting forward the fact that this does happen here,” his lawyer said. And none of these other cases warranted a statement from the mayor, she said.
“Why is this case any different?”
According to Dilkens, Widholm’s killing was a horrible shock to him and the general community. A week after the attack, he led a vigil and march along the Ganatchio Trail that attracted a crowd too big to count, he said this week.
“This one sat with me. It had a profound impact when I heard about it, the senseless nature of it, and I just thought I needed to weigh in on behalf of the community, how I think they’re feeling.”
While he acknowledged there are other horrible crimes, Dilkens said he can’t think of ones that were on the same level. The attacks on the elderly cited by Brown were bad, but not fatal, he said, adding that in the case of the hammer attack on Ottawa Street he went to visit the victim in hospital the following day. “I just felt so bad and wanted her to know that,” he said.
Victim impact statements are common during the sentencing hearings for these types of violent crimes, but in 2015, the Criminal Code of Canada was amended to allow community impact statements. “Sometimes the victim of an offence is more than one person — it is a community,” a Government of Canada document explains.
“The purpose of community impact statements is to allow the community to explain to the Court and the offender how the crime has affected the community.”
Dilkens said he followed the rules for what can be said in such a statement.
“There is crime in every community, you can’t submit a community impact statement for every one that happens, but for ones that have a profound impact I think it’s right for the mayor to make a submission,” he said.
Daniel Topp, president of the Windsor-Essex Criminal Lawyers’ Association, said he was surprised when he heard about the mayor getting involved in the case. It’s the first instance of a community impact statement he’s heard of locally.
“It’s bizarre that the mayor chooses to weigh in on this case, when there are so many other tragic cases dealing with things that happen in the community,” said Topp.
A good example are drug-related offences which illustrate how drugs and addiction are harming the community, he said. But Topp said he can understand the mayor’s motivation because the attack on Widholm happened in a public space — the city’s Ganatchio Trail.
Remarking on the weight given to a statement from the mayor of the city, Brown said she only hopes that the judge in the case, Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas, exercises fairness when he decides on sentencing.
Convicted of second-degree murder, Ahmadi is automatically sentenced to life. What’s still to be determined is when he’ll be eligible for parole. The Crown is seeking between 14 and 17 years, while Brown is seeking the minimum, 10 years. Ahmadi is a young man with no prior criminal record who has remained in custody since his arrest on the day of the attack, Brown said.
“I just want fairness for my client at the end of the day.”
The sentencing hearing is scheduled to resume Friday.
To read the mayor’s full community impact statement, go online to https://windsorstar.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Community-Impact-Statement-Widholm-1.pdf