Toronto

Activist files complaint after seeing videotaped arrest of deaf man in Burlington, Ont.

A member of Ontario's deaf community has filed a complaint after video surfaced depicting Halton Regional Police officers arresting a man who she says clearly couldn't hear them.

Footage shows Halton Regional Police officer saying: 'I am not going to write it for you'

Two Halton Regional Police Service officers arrest a deaf man in Burlington, Ont. One of the officers says to the man before he is forced to the ground: 'I am not going to write it for you.' (Facebook)

A member of Ontario's deaf community has filed a complaint after a video was posted on Facebook showing Halton Regional Police officers arresting a deaf man.

Video footage of the incident, posted to Facebook on Tuesday, has garnered more than 227,000 views. In the video, a Halton police officer repeatedly tells a man to turn around and put his hands behind his back.

The man, meanwhile, is seen ​making a writing motion ​to the officer.​

"I am not going to write it for you," the officer is heard saying in response.

A second officer arrives before the man is taken down to the ground and handcuffed. Neither officer writes anything out for the man during the arrest. The man screams intermittently.

Rose Etheridge, an activist with Ontario's deaf community, says she was stunned when she saw how police handled the arrest.

"Repeatedly, he's saying he's deaf. He's saying: 'I cannot speak, I'm deaf.' He's using gestures to indicate that. He's pointing to his ear and his mouth. And the police, despite that, continue to vocalize to him," Etheridge told CBC Toronto through an interpreter.

Speaking from behind him

In the video, the officers issue verbal commands to the man who has already indicated he cannot hear.

"How is he supposed to know this? First of all, they're speaking behind him. He can't hear​,​ in the first place. They're telling him to keep calm, which obviously isn't helping because once again he cannot hear them say this,"  Etheridge said.

Halton police say they made the arrest on Tuesday in the Fa​ir​view Street and Woodview Road area ​of Burlington, Ont., after responding to reports of a theft of several items​,​ including over-the-counter medication and razor blades. They said the man was known to police.

"The arresting officer has previously dealt with and effectively communicated with him without the use of sign language," Halton police said in a statement. "The arrest was made without injury to the male or police."
Rose Etheridge, an activist with Ontario's deaf community, reacts when shown the video on an iPhone. (CBC)

Once placed in custody, police said the man was given the opportunity to communicate with an officer familiar with American Sign Language to explain the situation. An ASL-certified interpreter arrived afterwards.

Police said the man has been charged with theft and was held for a bail hearing.

Writing is actually a great means, because not a lot of people actually read lips effectively- Shane Silver, Canadian Hearing Society

The incident, however, is raising questions about whether police handled the ​arrest appropriately.

"To me, this is clearly not respecting his dignity, his right to communicate… and in this situation he's not getting what he needs," Etheridge said.

​The Ontario Association of the Deaf agrees.

"This individual was obviously stunned that his basic human right was robbed right under his nose ... after several attempts to request a basic communication need — in writing," the association's Facebook page said Thursday.  "This is Ontario and we are in 2016."

Shane Silver, vice-president of the Canadian Hearing Society​,​​ said the society's number one priority when training officers is how to identify someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.
Shane Silver, vice-president of the Canadian Hearing Society, says officers need to be trained to identify people who are deaf or hard of hearing. He said pen and paper can be key to successful communication. (CBC)

When no interpreter is available, Silver says, a pen and paper can be key to successful communication.

"Writing is actually a great means, because not a lot of people actually read lips effectively. So it's a good means of communication."

Halton police said they have no further comment on the incident.

For her part, Etheridge met with the police service on Friday to express her concerns after filing the complaint. She said she wants to see police release a video explaining how officers will ​better handle such incidents in th​e future.

"It doesn't even matter if this is the person's first offence or even the hundredth. Their rights don't change."

With files from Nick Boisvert