The recent death of Harvey Sanderson, following a brutal assault, is a tragedy. It is a tragedy for his family, friends but for the disabled community, as well.
There are many speculations as to what kind of person could commit this violent act against a person with a disability and why it happened. There is debate that the disabled suffer a higher rate of crime than the general public. Until statistics are gathered, we need not look at people with disabilities as any more a victim than the able-bodied population when targeted.
Fingers point to lack of accessible and affordable housing in good neighbourhoods. While this may be a contributing factor, it is not the only one. There are high crime rates in the poorer areas of the city but criminal activity is on the rise in areas that are deemed as “good” areas. No matter where the location is, it is the responsibility of Manitoba Housing, rental agencies, and the tenants to ensure safety. There is no use in finger-pointing. We must be a community that strive for support, responsibility and accountability for all. But how can we do that when the Winnipeg Police Service is failing to do so?
Const. Rob Carver, spokesman for the Winnipeg Police Service, stated “Given the nature of the condition of the victim in this case, it’s something that has to be looked at very carefully in consultation with the Crown’s office.” He was a healthy male with a disability. Yes, he had brittle bone disease but that disease does not require emergency brain surgery, the use of life support to sustain him nor induce a comatose state. Sanderson would be alive today if he had not been brutally beaten. The fact that the police will only upgrade the charges if it can be proven that it was the assault which killed Sanderson is an outrage.
An outrage but not a surprise to see ignorance of disability once again rear its ugly head. People that do not have full use of their limbs, lungs, vision, and/or intellect, do not drop dead without prior symptoms, causes, or warnings. People with disabilities are not “sick.” I am deeply saddened and frightened for Manitoban’s disability community that this attitude affects the police’s ability to ensure support, responsibility and accountability.