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July 21, 2004

Officers' trial lightning rod for ire over discrimination

From: The Globe and Mail, Canada - Jul 21, 2004

Activists condemn police treatment of people who are both black and deaf


Community groups are using the trial of two veteran police officers charged with assault to condemn police treatment of people who are both black and deaf, and to lobby for an end to racial profiling.

"We see this as an opportunity to raise awareness of the devastating impact of this kind of dual discrimination that Peter Owusu-Ansah has suffered at the hands of police," said Elisabeth Bruckmann, a lawyer with Parkdale Community Legal Services.

The agency is one of more than a dozen Toronto-area organizations, including the Bob Rumball Centre for the Deaf and the Canadian Association for the Deaf, which formed a coalition to support Mr. Owusu-Ansah. The group also intends to lobby all governments to ensure that policing is "free of ableism and audism," Ms. Bruckmann said in an interview after the trial adjourned.

Toronto police constables Wayne Taylor and Syed Moosvi have pleaded not guilty to assaulting the 25-year-old carpenter behind a school on Sept. 13, 2002.

At the trial, Mr. Owusu-Ansah testified through a sign-language interpreter that he was stopped and asked for identification because he is black. He said he was only talking with friends at Bayview and Eglinton Avenues after leaving the Bob Rumball Centre when the police arrived.

Lawyer Gary Clewley, who represents Constable Moosvi, told reporters outside court that police stopped Mr. Owusu-Ansah and his friends because they fit the description of robbery suspects.

Constable Moosvi testified that neither he nor his partner elbowed Mr. Owusu-Ansah or kicked him in the groin as he says.

Mr. Owusu-Ansah, who immigrated from Ghana as a teen, said yesterday that the officers handcuffed him and pushed him into the back of their cruiser. He can read lips but he could not see their faces to answer their questions.

He said he felt safe and free in Canada until the past few years, when police have stopped him more than 17 times to ask for identification. "I don't feel free now at all," he said. "I just want this to stop. It's hard, very hard," he said, his voice choking.

He said he reported the assault and went to trial so "they don't do this to someone else."

The trial has highlighted the problems courts have when dealing with the deaf and hearing impaired.

Because court sign interpreters are available only Wednesday and Friday, none were present to sign for Mr. Owusu-Ansah and the other dozen hearing impaired who were in court yesterday for what was to have been closing submissions.

The coalition hired its own translator to deal with media queries of Mr. Owusu-Ansah and she volunteered to interpret for the court.

A sign-language translator has not always been present when Mr. Owusu-Ansah was in court, although one was provided when he and other hearing-impaired witnesses testified. Ms. Bruckmann said the courts do not appear concerned to make the courts accessible to those members of the public who cannot hear.

Judge Paul Robertson of the Ontario Court of Justice said future court dates for the closing arguments will be on the two days when a court interpreter is available.

Mr. Owusu-Ansah has filed a $60,000 civil lawsuit against the Toronto Police Service and the two officers. He has also launched a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission alleging police harassment and discrimination based on colour and physical disability.

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