The Ontario Court Of Appeal has unanimously upheld a jury ruling against the Toronto police for the false arrest and beating of a self-employed renovator who they gaybashed in the heart of the gay village.
Now there are calls for an inquiry into how 11 officers of the Toronto Police Service saw fit to attack a man, arrest him and attempt to cover their tracks.
On Dec 20 Justice Robert Sharpe found that the original jury and judge made no errors in law in 2004 when they awarded Robert Schisler, 53, $452,000 plus interest & now totalling more than $600,000, likely the largest settlement ever ordered against the police in Canada.
While the police lawyers had appealed that the cops had “reasonable probable grounds” to arrest Schisler because they claimed that he was driving dangerously, the appeal court agreed with the original jury & the police did not have enough reason to arrest Schisler.
On Jul 22, 1999, Schisler was in a parked van downtown with a hustler when he felt the van being rocked from the outside. Strange men shone a light inside and Schisler drove off in a panic, not realizing the men were plainclothes officers. Along with backup, they caught up to him at the corner of Church and Isabella, smashed the window of his van, pulled him out, kicked him and punched him, all the while calling him “cocksucker” and “faggot.”
At the police station, Schisler was given no water nor medical attention even though he was in pain and bleeding. He was released after three hours and later charged with dangerous driving and resisting arrest, charges that were eventually dropped.
Police tried to argue away the gaybashing, but evidence in a 911 call by Jackie Wilson, an independent witness who called in the incident and corroborated the bashing, “went to the heart of the case,” stated the appeal court.
The police, Sharpe said, had access to the 911 call but denied that information to the defence. Private investigators for Schisler’s lawyers uncovered the 911 call and the witness who saw the beating from her apartment and was trying to report it to the police & not realizing then that it was the cops who were the attackers. When Kevin McGinley, one of the two cop lawyers, said in the appeal court “the police didn’t know anything about the 911 call,” Sharpe replied, “You mean your poor little guys were out there all on their own? Let’s get serious here!”
As a result of the appeal judgment, Schisler’s lawyer Hedy Epstein called for an official inquiry into the police gaybashing and cover-up.
“Not only was Mr Schisler beaten and subjected to homophobic slurs but he was falsely arrested to cover up the actions of certain police officers,” says Epstein. “That cover-up continued within the institution and included high ranking officers.”
The Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario (CLGRO) has also called for an inquiry.
“Bob Schisler deserves to be commended for his perseverance and courage in the face of overwhelming odds,” says CLGRO’s Richard Hudler, who attended most of the court proceedings.
Also endorsing the call for an inquiry is Jane Doe & the victim of a rape in 1986 that might have not happened if the police had properly informed the public and who herself famously successfully sued the Toronto cops for misconduct.
Whether or not there is an independent inquiry, the question remains when and if Schisler will get the money awarded by the courts. The lawyers for the police have 60 days from the Court Of Appeal judgment against them to appeal the case to the Supreme Court Of Canada. Asked on the day of the ruling if they will appeal, they said that “we have had no instructions from our clients.”
Says Epstein: “It was a unanimous decision and they need leave to appeal…. If leave is sought, the Supreme Court only reviews the written application for leave and my response. The time varies but if they are going to deny leave it happens pretty fast.”
If there is no appeal, Schisler should get his settlement by Feb 20.
“At this point it is not just about the money but to help other people from being victimized by the police in a similar fashion,” says Schisler.