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Montréal, June 1st, 2018 - The Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission issued a decision last week that raises disturbing questions about access to justice for victims of racism and hate crimes who are unilingual English-speaking, poor, disabled and older.

The Commission states in the decision that the case of Harrold Acquah, a 62 year-old unilingual anglophone disabled Black man who was a victim of a racist assault in Pointe Saint-Charles, does not raise any issue of “public interest.” As a result, the Commission declines to represent him before the Human Rights Tribunal, leaving him to go to court at his own expense.

Acquah is a 62 year-old unilingual English-speaking Black man who is disabled and of low income. He worked for years as a newspaper delivery man.

On Saturday, June 15, 2013 at around 3am, Acquah was delivering the Journal de Montreal near the Charlevoix Metro station. As he exited his car, he noticed a group of five white young adults. As he was walking, he heard a male voice shout “N-r! N-r!” Acquah ignored the slurs, brought the newspapers to the clients' place, and began walking back to his car.

Upon trying to enter his car, he was blocked by a large white man, identified as Garry Wheatley, who proceeded to verbally assault him, calling him the N-word, while pushing him.

As soon as Acquah was able to open his car door, Wheatley punched Acquah on the left side of his neck causing Acquah to fall to the ground. Wheatley continued punching Acquah while another unidentified white male kicked him.

Two police officers arrived on the scene and attempted to stop the gang assault. Wheatley continued to kick Acquah while police tried to pull him off Acquah. Wheatley was arrested and charged with assault causing bodily harm and obstruction of justice.

An ambulance was called to tend to Acquah’s face, which was swollen, bloody and numb, and his intense neck and knee pain. Since the attack, Acquah has experienced headaches, fatigue, anxiety, and physical problems as a result of the punches to his face, as he was hit near an existing cancerous tumour. He has also changed his paper delivery route due to a constant fear of running into his aggressors.

CRARR filed, in June 2013, a complaint against Wheatley for violations of Acquah’s civil rights. It took the Human Rights Commission almost five years to issue a decision.

While recognizing that Acquah was a victim of race-based discrimination and civil rights violation and recommending that Wheatley pay him $30,000 in moral and punitive damages, the Commission also states that it will not represent Acquah before the Human Rights Tribunal, should Wheatley refuse to pay, because the case does not raise a “question of public interest” and that “the Victim is able to represent himself” to defend his individual rights.

“It took the Commission five years for this? Really, the Commission’s reasoning is as offensive and hurtful as the racist assault that my aggressor committed against me,” said Acquah.

“The Commission did not even check my condition. Its refusal to represent me before the Tribunal is a shameful statement of how it treats victims of racism like myself who are old, poor, disabled and unilingual English-speaking,” he added.

“This is both justice delayed and justice denied,” he said.

“It’s disturbing for a human rights commission to send the message that a violent act of anti-Black hate crime does not “raise a question of public interest” in 2018, when hate crimes and white supremacy extremist groups are more and more present in our cities,” CRARR's Executive Director Fo Niemi said.

“Today, the Commission has lost a lot of credibility on race-based hate crime,” Niemi added. “How many English-speaking people, be they white or racialized, and how many victims of hate crime can believe in justice or access to justice with this kind of decision?”, he asked.

The Commission’s decision is not the only disturbing aspect about the case. Acquah was never asked to appear as a witness for the prosecution, or to submit a victim impact statement during the criminal proceedings. He was told by the prosecutor that he would be called to testify, but never was in the end. The hate motivation was also not raised for tougher sentencing, as allowed by the Criminal Code. In December 2016, he was informed that Wheatley was sentenced to community service and 2 years of probation.

According to Sameer Zuberi, Board member of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association, the decision raise the fundamental question of access to justice.

“In a time when alt-right groups are increasingly present in the public space - addressing the racially-motivated-hate attack against Mr. Acquah - is of public interest. It's critical the Commission go the distance and endure that Mr. Acquah's is well represented at the Human Rights Tribunal,” he said.

Farida Mohamed, spokesperson for the Council of Muslim Women of Canada (Montreal) also echoes that sentiment: “CCMW Montreal would like the police to recognize and denounce hate crimes. We also ask that the Human Rights Commission defend vulnerable victims and see the whole process through rather than leave victims in the lurch in their fight for justice.”

For Balarama Holness, who is working with CRARR and many groups to collect 15,000 signatures to require the City of Montreal to hold a public consultation on systemic racism and discrimination, the “highly egregious” decision by the Commission points to the urgent need to review how hate crime is dealt with in Montreal.

“Mr. Acquah’s case shows how systemic racism operates in the criminal and the civil justice systems, both of which failed him,” Holness stated. “Montrealers of all backgrounds cannot allow Mr. Acquah and other victims of hate crime to be victimized over and over by a justice system that is supposed to guarantee equal protection and equal benefit of the law for all,” he concluded.

CRARR will be launching a GoFundMe campaign to help Acquah go to the Human Rights Tribunal, since it is not expected that his aggressor will pay the recommended sum.