The harassment began in April 2012, when some residents at the Malvern low-income co-op started finding offensive and demeaning posters plastered on walls throughout the building. The posters included messages that specifically referred to one nine-year-old tenant with Cerebral palsy as a "cripple" and called others "in-bred," among a host of other slights.
Deborah Crew and her partner Bill Bowerman were frequent targets of the posters.
"It's beyond words how degraded, humiliated, unworthy and unwanted it made me feel. I know a piece of paper shouldn't make you feel like that," says Crew.
Theresa Savoie, the mother of Zachary, the nine-year-old boy living with Cerebral palsy, said the messages became increasingly vulgar over about a six-month period.
"The worst part is that we as parents are there to protect our children, but this was beyond our control."
Board took all action possible, lawyer says
Savoie and a group of tenants went to the building's volunteer board of directors, demanding that something be done to end the hateful messaging. The board says they did everything in their power to stop the harassment, including installing additional security cameras and hiring community police.
"The co-op did everything it could at the time, and it worked," says Kiel Ardal, the lawyer representing the board at an upcoming Human Rights Tribunal. "The messages stopped over two years ago, and there's been no further incidents."
But the targeted tenants say the harassment went on for months despite the board's efforts, and three years later, it's still unknown who was responsible.
The victims would like the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to lay out the responsibilities of a co-op board in such instances. Savoie says a ruling is necessary to prevent others from dealing with the same demeaning circumstances that her son Zachary faced.
"He can't defend himself, he can't speak for himself. So it's up to us and the Human Rights Tribunal to make that voice for every child and every person with a disability and make sure it never happens to anyone," she says.
The tribunal will hear the case on Monday and could potentially award the residents compensation and order the building to implement new policies.