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Vancouver officer who pushed disabled woman could face harsher punishment

A woman who was shoved to the ground by a Vancouver police officer – despite the fact she suffers from cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis – hopes he'll face "meaningful consequences" now that the police-complaint commissioner has ruled a one-day suspension isn't punishment enough.

Sandy Davidsen, 29, was walking past three officers on the city's Downtown Eastside in June, 2010, when Constable Taylor Robinson pushed her to the concrete. Video of the incident drew tens of thousands of views and immediate condemnation, and challenged the force's already-strained relationship with residents of the poorest neighbourhood in the country.

Ms. Davidsen filed a complaint with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, which provides civilian oversight of complaints against municipal police in B.C. Last week, commissioner Stan Lowe sent a letter to Constable Robinson and the Vancouver Police Department rejecting their proposed punishment – in addition to the one-day suspension, the officer would have had to undertake extra training and receive advice on his conduct.

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Mr. Lowe wrote that "the discipline proposed does not reflect or adequately address the seriousness" of Constable Robinson's misconduct. He said the matter would instead proceed to a discipline hearing later this year.

Through her lawyer, Ms. Davidsen wrote in a statement she supports the commissioner's decision. She also said an apology letter Constable Robinson sent her shortly after the incident was inadequate.

In the letter, the officer said he pushed Ms. Davidsen because he thought she was reaching for his firearm. He also expressed regret for not helping her back to her feet.

Constable Robinson was charged with assault in December, 2010, though the case was eventually stayed. He has been with the force since 2009 and currently works in patrol in southwest Vancouver.

Scott Bernstein, Ms. Davidsen's lawyer, said his client could not be reached for an interview Tuesday because she does not have a phone. He said the experience has been an "emotional, powerful, traumatic" one for her.

Mr. Bernstein said he hopes the case serves as a wake-up call because police discipline too often amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist.

"If you were in Kitsilano and you're a person with disabilities – first of all, you wouldn't see three police officers walking three abreast down your sidewalk. The second [point] is they'd get out of your way, they'd assist you, they'd help you. It's because it's the Downtown Eastside, this kind of us-versus-them mentality of the police," he said in an interview.

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Vancouver police spokesman Constable Lindsey Houghton disagreed, writing in an e-mail that the department has a good relationship with the community and community groups who work and live in the Downtown Eastside. He pointed to programs such as Sister Watch – which is designed to combat violence against women in the neighbourhood – and Projects Rescue and Tyrant, two investigations that led to several arrests.

When asked if the punishment handed to Constable Robinson was too light, Constable Houghton said it would be inappropriate to comment while the discipline process is ongoing.

Mr. Bernstein said the discipline hearing is slated for October. He's requested the police-complaint commissioner appoint a retired judge to review the case and make recommendations, rather than a police officer.

Rollie Woods, the deputy police-complaint commissioner, said in an interview that Mr. Lowe has only rejected discipline agreements a handful of times since he took office in February, 2009.

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Based in Vancouver, Sunny has been with The Globe and Mail since November, 2010. More

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