Gaybashing cops get appeal

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James Dubro / Toronto Xtra / Thursday, December 21, 2006

A three-judge panel of the Ontario Court Of Appeal started a hearing this week into the case of a gay man who a jury ruled was physically assaulted and verbally abused by police in 1999.

In 2004 Robert Schisler, 53, won a civil trial case against the Toronto Police Service and 11 officers; a six-person jury awarded him $452,000, one of the highest awards ever against Toronto police. That ruling was appealed by the police, whose lawyers are arguing that the trial judge erred in directing the jury about what are reasonable and probable grounds for arrest; they are also claiming that the amount of the award is "unsustainable."

Schisler himself is also appealing the 2004 jury's ruling. His lawyer Hedy Epstein says she's seeking to increase the amount of money awarded to Schisler to more than $600,000, arguing that the jury should have found there to be malice on the part of the police officers.

On Jul 22, 1999, the self-employed renovator was pulled from his van by unidentified plain clothes police officers and was repeatedly kicked, punched and called "cocksucker" and "faggot."

The factum for the case states that at about 2am that day, Schisler drove his van downtown "for some male companionship." Schisler picked up a hustler, parked in a legal spot, drew the curtains of his van and, according to Schisler, "started cuddling and snuggling" with his companion.

Schisler soon heard someone trying the doors, felt the van rocking, saw lights being shined into the van. Panicking, Schisler drove off, dropped off his companion and headed home.

But by the time he got to Isabella and Church he had to stop for a red light, and two unmarked police cars blocked him in.

"Unbeknownst to Schisler, the men on Jarvis St were police officers," states the factum. They were looking for a pimp who didn't look anything like Schisler and called in seven other officers to stop Schisler. When a terrified Schisler didn't get out of the van when he was told to, one officer smashed the window and unlocked the door.

"Schisler was dragged out of the van, thrown to the ground and punched and kicked," states the factum. "Schisler was then handcuffed, placed in a cruiser and arrested for dangerous driving and assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest."

At 52 division he was given no water or medical attention even though he was in pain and bleeding. He was released after three hours.

Schisler, who says he still has nightmares about the incident, decided to take legal action against 11 Toronto cops.

"Someone had to stand up and fight the police," he says.

The factum states that "psychologically, he was unable to cope with the beating and slurs and developed an anxiety disorder. He was only able to work on occasion and at small jobs that did not require much concentration. Unable to meaningfully work, Schisler eventually lost everything, including his home and investment property.

"Schisler went from being a happy and centered person, who helped people, to someone who was frustrated, angry, sad, no longer enjoyed life and was taken advantage of. He constantly talked and thought about the incident and could no longer form long-term relationships. Schisler turned to crack cocaine in an effort to maintain relationships and to help him to forget."

He later overcame his addiction with the help of a psychiatrist. In 2001, most of the charges against Schisler were dropped because of court delays.

Because of the appeal, Schisler has not seen a cent of his 2004 award. If it comes through he plans "on buying a new house and helping other people from being victimized in a similar fashion."

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