All charges have been dropped against a 32-year-old deaf man who was arrested during the G20 protests in Toronto a year and a half ago.
Emomotimi Azorbo, who also cannot speak, was arrested on June 25, 2010, as demonstrators clashed with police during a downtown march near Yonge and College Streets protesting against the world leaders’ meeting.
His lawyer, Howard Morton, said Mr. Azorbo is apolitical and was only in the area to see what was going on. When he and a friend tried to cross the street to buy bottled water, a police officer told them to return to the sidewalk and pushed Mr. Azorbo, his lawyer said.
Mr. Azorbo didn’t understand the officer, but returned to the sidewalk anyway. He then went back into the street again, and a confrontation ensued during which he pushed a police officer, Mr. Morton said. He was forced to the ground and handcuffed.
“His friend is there, yelling at the police, ‘He’s deaf, he doesn’t understand you,’ and she’s totally ignored,” Mr. Morton said.
Mr. Azorbo was charged with assaulting two police officers and resisting arrest. All of the charges were dropped in court on Monday morning in exchange for Mr. Azorbo signing a peace bond promising to stay out of trouble for the next six months.
Crown attorney Jason Miller said a video of Mr. Azorbo’s arrest shows that he was being aggressive when he was arrested, but he added that the aggression was “on the fairly low end of things.”
“If Mr. Azorbo was prepared to admit his wrongdoing, I felt the public interest didn’t require that we proceed against him on the criminal charges,” he said.
Mr. Morton said his client was not given access to an interpreter, both during his detention and at subsequent court appearances.
Mr. Azorbo, who grew up in Nigeria, only speaks some American Sign Language and requires both an American Sign Language interpreter and a Deaf Interpreter.
When police brought him to the G20 temporary detention centre on Eastern Avenue, he was held for 16 hours without proper access to either interpreter, Mr. Morton said, and two of his court appearances had to be held over when interpreters didn’t appear at the courtroom.
Mr. Morton filed a motion alleging that his client’s Charter rights were breached, and if the case had gone to trial, he would have asked the judge to stay the charges on those grounds.
He was surprised that the Crown pursued the case against Mr. Azorbo as long as it did, he added.
“I think it was … an attempt to justify the kind of security and armed camp the city went through and the kind of money that was spent on the G20,” Mr. Morton said.
Mr. Miller said he doesn’t believe Mr. Azorbo’s Charter rights were violated and noted that interpreters showed up at most court dates.
Gordana Mosher, a spokeswoman from the Canadian Hearing Society, said the case highlights the importance of planning ahead to ensure people who are deaf or have difficulty hearing have access to interpretation at court.
“Making sure that the individual understands [legal terms]is difficult in any language. Imagine the complexities as well of having sign language and having interpretation in there,” she said. “We want to make sure that court, the judges and all legal practitioners can just understand that this is a missing link we need to accommodate.”