Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Threatening blind man constitutes 'hate crime'

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A man threatened to shoot the dog of a blind man aboard a Winnipeg Transit bus, according to a witness who said passengers then urged the driver to kick the man off the bus.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a woman said Thursday she was aboard a city bus Sept. 17 when someone started to make threats against a 41-year-old blind man's guide dog.

The Winnipeg Police Service released surveillance footage of the suspect Wednesday in hopes of identifying the suspect.

The woman said the blind man was seated behind the bus driver, and the other man sat across from him. She said she was sitting a couple of rows back when she overheard the man threatening to kill the guide dog.

"I was just tuning it out -- you get all kinds of nuts on the bus -- then I started hearing the words and he was threatening to shoot the dog," she said. "That's when I went, 'shut the f up and stop saying those things.' "

She said passengers started to yell for the driver to throw the man off the bus.

The woman said she and the blind man regularly get off the bus at the same stop. He later told her he was upset the bus driver didn't intervene. The woman said she stood between the blind man and the abusive passenger when they were about to get off the bus.

"I was afraid. I was getting up to get off the bus, and he started making comments and I stood between him and the blind guy because I figured this guy is not going to see anything coming," she said.

City of Winnipeg spokeswoman Alissa Clark said in an email bus drivers are expected to provide assistance to all customers, particularly those with special needs to ensure they safely reach their destination.

She said operators are trained in dispute resolution and can seek the assistance of on-street inspectors or the police, if required.

Shep Shell, a longtime advocate of blind and visually impaired people, said the incident with the blind man on the bus should illustrate the need for Winnipeggers to step in to help vulnerable people.

Shell, who uses a guide dog named Paige, said he'd like to see police collar the suspect.

He said he should go to jail.

"I think it's a harassment, a hate crime, it's picking on a vulnerable person," he said.

"I think this person obviously had no conscience."

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2012 B2

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Updated on Friday, December 7, 2012 at 10:40 AM CST: replaces photo

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