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Deaf Rights and the G20

Deaf man arrested in G20 protest granted bail

By Sarah Boesveld and Anna Mehler Paperny

Globe and Mail Update

Emomotimi Azorbo charged with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, but friends say he couldn't hear and follow police instructions

Standing in a plexi-glass prisoner's box on Saturday afternoon, Emomotimi Azorbo stared straight ahead at his sign language interpreter as he learned he would be set free.

The deaf Toronto man was arrested Friday afternoon as thousands of protesters clashed with police in riot gear during a march through downtown.

He's charged with assaulting an officer and resisting arrest.

Mr. Azorbo was granted $1,000 bail, no deposit on Saturday afternoon. He's not allowed access to any weapons and is required to stay out of the downtown - Bloor Street to the north, Lakeshore Boulevard to the south, Spadina Avenue to the west and Jarvis Street to the east - until June 29.

He will re-appear in court to face the charges Aug. 23 at 9 a.m.

Police allege Mr. Azorbo was part of a group of about 500 people that threatened to damage windows of a Winner's store. When police approached, they say, Mr. Azorbo pushed an officer and two others.

His lawyer Howard Morton argues that's not the case.

"The allegations that were read out in court just didn't happen that way," he said.

"Our defence is he did absolutely nothing wrong. He was there and he was entitled to be there."

Mr. Morton and Mr. Azorbo's friends are also furious he didn't have access to an American Sign Language interpreter while being held in the film studio turned G20 detention centre on Eastern Avenue.

"I think police have to have facilities and accommodations for people with special needs."

For hours on Friday night and into Saturday morning, about three dozen protesters held a sit-in outside the detention centre. They chanted, held a drum session and argued with the row of police officers separating them from the street, asking for Mr. Azorbo to be released or at least granted access to a translator.

Mr. Azorbo's friend and neighbour Saron Gebresellassi says Mr. Azorbo, who can't speak or lip-read, had no idea what police were trying to tell him.

She and Mr. Azorbo had gone to see what the protest was about, she said, adding that there was a miscommunication with police, she said, because her friend couldn't understand the verbal instructions they were giving him. Ms. Gebresellassi said her friend wasn't involved in the protest and had little idea what was going on.

No members of the public were allowed in courtroom 203, which has been designated for those charged with G20 related crimes.

Even Mr. Azorbo's mother Sophie was not allowed in. Outside the courtroom, she expressed relief that her son will be coming home.

"I'm pleased that he is being let go," she said, refusing to make further comments on the case.

Outside the courthouse, the Canadian Hearing Society's Gary Malkowski said the police failure to allow an interpreter who was not an officer to assist communication violates human rights and the charter.

"This is a serious concern," he said through an interpreter. "He has the right to access to communication. He was not aware of the rules of the Toronto Police. He was walking on the sidewalk and was not aware."

Source

The Toronto Star had a much better write-up about it, including an excellent quote:
"Handcuffing a deaf person is like putting duct tape over a hearing person's mouth. It's a violation of their human rights" - Jeff Panasuik
However, they've replaced that article with a more general one about G-20 Ringleaders, with only a brief mention of this man.

There's also another story about the arrest here.

Also, as posted on The Facebook Group, the deaf community was having a lot of other problems with the G-20 related police activity, as demonstrated by this story:

"Interesting thing just happened.

I'm on my scooter headin to the ORAD social. I got to Queens park and Wellesley. There are people moving freely all through the park. At Queens park and Wellesley there was a line of police. There were people on the other side and all I wanted to do was go east on Wellesley. I typed out "I am going East on Wellesley to a social held by the Ontario Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf. Can I do this?" I had ID out.

I approached them and they refused to read it. I started signing and gesturing that I'm Deaf. They pointed away from them and one of them said very clearly "she's playing the sign language game. She can hear. Don't play into it".

I grew up oral and I'm a good lip reader and I caught it all. This is our problem. Even if we identify as Deaf, they don't believe it. "

EDIT Just realized that Google has cached the original Toronto Star article here. I really think it was the best article, so I'll include it behind a cut, as I don't know how long the cache link will direct to the original article.

by Brendan Kennedy
Staff Reporter

Family and friends of Emomotimi Azorbo, a deaf protestor who was arrested Friday, waited at the west-end courthouse where all G20 bail hearings take place this morning in the rain.

Azorbo, 30, was arrested at the intersection of College and Yonge after when he did not heed police commands to stay off the road, his friends say.

“I was asking them (police officers) to talk to me so I could talk to him,” said Azorbo's friend, Saron Gebresellasi, who was with Azorbo when he was arrested. “They were all yelling at him and he didn't understand.”

Gebresellasi said they were about to cross Yonge street to get water from a convenience store when police officers started yelling at Azorbo as soon as he stepped off the sidewalk.

Gebresellasi said police refused her request that she use sign language for Azorbo. Azorbo was handcuffed by police and shuttled into the Winners store area, Gebresellasi said, saying the situation deteriorated from there.

“He couldn't sign to me, because his hands were cuffed behind his back. I could see the anxiety it was causing him. He tried to spell letters with one hand and I could barely make out that he was asking me to stay, to not leave him.”


Gebresellasi said she asked police to let her stay with Azorbo until another interpreter arrived, but they refused. Friends believe he spent the night in the Eastern Ave. detention centre set up for G20 arrests.

“I know it would have been a traumatizing experience for him, because he wouldn't be able to communicate or understand anything,” Gebresellasi said.

Azorbo's mother, Sophie, started crying when Gebresellasi recounted her son's attempt to communicate while handcuffed. She said he works in the kitchen of a North York restaurant.

Jeff Pansuik, a deaf advocate who was also at the courthouse for Azorbo's hearing, said the situation is not unique and police need to develop better protocols when arresting deaf people. “It's not new; deaf people are denied interpreters all the time.”

Pansuik said deaf people should be handcuffed in the front, which would allow them to sign better.

“Handcuffing a deaf person is like putting duct tape over a hearing person's mouth,” he said. “It's a violation of their human rights.”
Tags: disabilities, g20, police
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