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The Written Statement Preparing The Foundation of The Case

Editor's Note: Editors Note: This article is the second in a series of articles on personal advocacy. As readers will recall, the first article contained an overview of the process that an individual would be exposed to if charges were laid by a blind person against a taxi driver for refusing to transport them with their guide dog. While this article does contain some general advice which people may follow when preparing written statements, readers should contact their own legal counsel in the place where they live before they involve themselves in protracted court proceedings. The author would like to thank Police Constable John Wolak and Susan Wolak of the Halton Regional Police for their helpful advice which has been incorporated into this article.

The Written Statement

The preparation of a written account of the events giving rise to legal proceedings is probably the most important part of the preparation that a complainant or victim of wrongdoing must go through to prepare the case. Whether the victim is involved in the legal process because goods were stolen from their house or because they have been refused access to a taxicab with their guide dog, it is always a good practice for the individual to prepare a detailed written account of the events that form the basis for the complaint. In the following sections of this article, I will discuss some basic principles that individuals should follow when preparing a written account of the events, whether that account is prepared for a police officer, an insurance adjuster or some other kind of investigator.

Identification

In the opening paragraphs of your written account of the events, you should provide your name, your address and other demographic information. If your complaint is based on age discrimination, you should also provide your age. A sample opening for a written account might read: 1. My name is Robert Fenton. I live at 123 - 45th Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5B 1R3.

Where Were You When the Events Happened

The next section of the account should summarise where you were when the incident that you are writing about occurred (if the location is known). For example, in a case where discrimination against a taxi driver is alleged, it is important to identify the place where the driver refused to provide service to you. A precise street address or the name of a building or other important landmark must be used to identify the location. You should also specify the date and the time of the incident. If other witnesses were present, these individuals should be identified as well in this portion of the statement. A sample section of a written account dealing with these kinds of issues might read: 2. On March 4, 2000, I purchased groceries at Jones Food Mart located at 789 Yonge Street, Toronto. My friend, John Smith accompanied me. Mr. Smith resides at 456 78th Street, Toronto. 3. At approximately 7:15 p.m., I called ABC Taxi Company and asked the dispatcher to send a taxi to Jones Food Mart to take me home with my groceries.

What Happened

This section of the written account is generally the most difficult to write for the average person. However, it is generally the most important area that investigators, prosecutors and others will rely upon in determining whether or not further legal action is required. It is therefore very important to keep the following principles in mind: (a) Confine your sentences to reporting strictly on factual matters. Your state of mind, i.e., your level of anger, frustration, etc. is not relevant. (b) Keep your sentences as short as possible. This will make your account easier to read. (c) Be as detailed as you can about the events that you are reporting about. If you are able to identify precisely what items are missing from your house in a theft situation or any distinguishing features of the driver in a denial of access to a taxi cab situation, all of these kinds of details should be recorded. For example, you should write down information about whether the driver was male or female, if the driver had a distinguishing accent or any other personal characteristics about the driver that you are able to perceive. (d) If you are able to remember what was said either by you, by your witness or other people present, be sure to record this information in your written account. This kind of information will be of great assistance to investigators who may want to contact any of the other people who observed the events as they transpired. You should also record the name and address of any individuals who were present when the incident occurred if you have this information at your disposal. (e) Be as descriptive as possible. If you are able to describe sounds, smells, and other things that you may have observed that may be relevant to the incident, these too should be recorded. A sample account summarising what happened in a case where a blind person was refused access to a taxicab with their guide dog might read: 4. When the taxi arrived at the Jones Food Mart, I approached the back passenger door of the taxi. As I opened the door, the taxi driver told me, I don't take dogs. I told the driver, My dog is a guide dog. You are required by law to take me with my guide dog in your taxicab. The driver then said, I think you are wrong. I am not going to take you in my cab. I then told the driver, You leave me with no option. I will contact the Taxi Licensing Commission and charge you for refusing to take me in your cab with my guide dog. 5. At the end of this exchange, I learned from a bystander whom I cannot identify, that the taxicab was ABC Taxi #678. I was not able to obtain the name of the taxi driver himself."

General Comments and Conclusions

When preparing a written account of events which may lead to the laying of criminal or other charges, it is important to remember that the statement will be reviewed and analysed by investigators, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials. You should expect that once the investigator first reviews your statement, S/he will have some additional questions for you regarding its general content. The investigator may use your written account to prepare a formal witness statement which contains other information that the investigator has learned by asking you questions about the events. The purpose of your initial account is to acquaint the investigator with the general facts so that the investigator has a better idea what questions to ask and to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the given complaint.

In writing a written account of a series of events, it is important to be direct, descriptive and concise. If you follow these principles and clearly identify who you are, where you were and what happened, the chances of you receiving a good resolution to the dispute in question will be significantly enhanced.