Sexual assaults spark intense media coverage

The two men who went on a sexual-assault rampage in York University’s Vanier Residence in the early hours Friday, assaulting two young women and attempting to assault a third, likely had ties to the University, a senior York official told The Globe and Mail Sept. 10. The police said in a statement that the assailants, who also attempted to get into three other rooms in the residence, are white males in their early 20s.

"The description [of the assailants] speaks for itself. It could be a student, it could be somebody who was a student, it could be somebody who knows a student," Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, said after University officials were briefed on the Toronto Police Service investigation.

One assailant was described as being 5 foot 5 to 5 foot 7 with a dark complexion, short dark hair and wearing blue jeans and running shoes. The other was described as 6 foot to 6 foot 1, with short, light-coloured hair and wearing blue jeans.

Bilyk said he could not say if the women assaulted were first-year students. "I really can’t answer that. I don’t know the students, nor do I need to know, " he said. (Under law, the identities of sexual assault victims cannot be published.) "I think somebody is reporting two 19-year-olds, and I don’t believe that is correct," he added.

He said that "obviously students will be traumatized by this, as is the community," and that the University is responding by making counsellors available and holding meetings between the residence dons and students.

Since the attacks, the York security department has issued two campus-wide alerts, the second of which described the assailants and asked that all suspicious behaviour be reported.

These are not the first sexual assaults on York students. Last December, police arrested a suspect after a woman was assaulted near the University in an incident similar to two other assaults on York students in November. In the summer of 2000 in a series of brazen sexual assaults, five women were attacked near the campus. A teenager pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years in prison in 2001.

  • Residents of a York University dormitory huddled in a common area yesterday trying to digest news that two sexual predators had roamed their hallways, stealing into dorm rooms, raping two women and trying to attack a third, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 9.

Houry Seukunian, 19, a resident of the 400-person residence, said the scenario is beyond frightening. It’s one thing to be nervous about walking down a campus laneway after dark, she said, but quite another to feel unsafe when snuggled into bed. "I’m scared to go to the bathroom by myself," she said yesterday. "We go in packs. I knew our campus wasn’t safe. But, you can walk around outside with people. You’re not going to have people sleep next to you in bed because you’re scared."

York University issued a campus-wide alert on Friday, pasting bulletins on residence doorways, e-mailing all students, beefing up security patrols and doubling police at Keele campus.

Officers guarded the entrance to Vanier yesterday and canvassed students inside the dorm rooms, many bearing the names of those living there. The attacks came on the eve of the 27th annual Take Back the Night protest and march at Allan Gardens to raise awareness of sexual violence.

York spokesperson Alex Bilyk said officials will be reviewing campus security – a standard practice after such incidents. "Our dormitories are safe, " he said. “Someone gained entry. Normally it isn’t easy to gain access. Police are working to try to figure out how that happened."

Students require an entry card to get past the locked front doors of the residence. Once inside, they must sign in any guests they invite in. "Dons," mature students with residence responsibilities, and porters scrutinize people coming and going, students said. 

While York has myriad safety measures, including goSAFE, a vehicle that will transport students across the campus after dark, escort foot patrols, lots of lighting and emergency calling stations, students said it’s possible to smuggle foreigners into residence.

Ken Sinclair, 21, an engineering student, said that when he lived in Vanier a couple of years ago, students would get their friends in through fire escape doors that opened from the inside. "I think York security is doing the best they can," he said.

The women were attacked hours after York University’s first pub night of the season, at York Lanes, the on-campus strip mall that’s steps away from Vanier College.

Det. Kim Hancock, of the sex crimes unit, said students have to be cautious not only while traversing the campus after dark, but at all times. More than 60,000 people roam the York campus at any given time, she said, and the grounds come alive during frosh week and the beginning of classes when many students are away from home for the first time, vulnerable and drinking. "If you have a lock on your (dorm) door, use it at night," Hancock advised.

  • Det. Christine Long said police are reviewing surveillance and other forensic evidence, wrote The Toronto Sun Sept. 9. There were no signs of forced entry, she said. "I feel both suspects were very comfortable with the environment, therefore they’re either part of the school or were part of the school," she said.

But students don’t seem too worried or frightened by the attacks. "I lock my door," said first-year student Jennifer Johnson, of Keswick. "It’s like a house, I’m not going to let somebody just walk into my house."

Another female resident said everyone is taking responsibility in tightening security at the high-rise dorm which houses between 250 and 300 co-eds.

Gilary Massa, with the York Federation of Students, said a large number of campus alerts have been issued. "I’m very pleased with how the University is handling (the incidents)," she said. "They’re taking the security measures they have to take." She said the attacks have shaken her. "I spoke to my roommate and she came in from Vancouver and she was frightened and I am…in shock," said the fourth-year student who described the campus as safe.

Parent Dave Lightfoot said he feels his son is safe living on campus and has faith in its security, although his wife Victoria urged her son to escort girlfriends to their residences after hours.

  • The crimes shocked students and outraged administrators, and add a chilling new dimension to the sexual dangers that often lurk on university campuses, wrote the National Post Sept. 10 .

"It’s upsetting to know it happened here," said Lindsay Meaning, 20, a Vanier resident. "It’s sort of frightening to know that someone can break in to a building that’s supposed to be secure."

Now in her second year living on campus, Meaning said she has never before feared for her safety, even when venturing out alone for a 2am coffee break. "I’m going to make my boyfriend come with me when I go down to the basement to do laundry," Meaning said.

York University spokesman Alex Bilyk was agitated about the horrifying events. "It’s extremely disturbing," he said. "It’s as if somebody walked into your house." Still, he insisted that the campus of 65,000 – the size of a mid-sized town – is generally secure.

Bilyk speculated the pair might have slipped in behind a larger group returning from a pub night held on campus on Thursday as part of frosh week festivities.

"This is obviously a crime of opportunity; in other words the two perpetrators, the two criminals who entered the unit found the way to do it," Bilyk said. "We don’t know how…whether they tailgated in behind, whether they walked in with a bunch of students – nobody knows. That’s why it’s so important to be vigilant, make sure you don’t have tailgaters coming in behind you, lock your doors at night, do all those things."

  • What police say is most unique about this case is that the suspects are working as a team as they prey upon their victims. They are very well in tune with what’s going on at this university, and know their surroundings well. They also blend in, said reporter Alex Pierson on Global News Sept. 9

“The fact that they can blend in so easily, that they can interact so easily with residents, with staff, with community within that university community is troubling to us, and disturbing, and we’re concerned about that," said Det. Christine Long of the Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit.

Patrols by both Toronto Police and campus security have been stepped up, porters who monitor access to restricted areas have been instructed to be extra vigilant and students are being warned to be careful and take precautions such as travelling in groups or locking their doors.

  • The incidents were reported on most radio and television stations in the Greater Toronto Area and nationally on the CBC, Global, CTV, City-TV/CP24 and A-Channel stations.

New anti-piracy law changes the rules for Toronto film festival

As the Toronto film festival unspools this week, anyone caught just recording a movie without permission can be charged with a criminal offence, punishable by two years in jail, wrote Canadian Press Sept. 7. Taping copyrighted material to later sell or rent it can carry a sentence of up to five years. “In general, film festivals are a big source of this kind of piracy,” said Paul Hoffert, a professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and a long-time observer of film piracy trends. “Instead of a (single) theatre where you have access to a few films in a week, you have theatres that have access to a hundred films in one week.”

Tory has lifelong political passion

York alumnus John Tory (LLB ’78), the man who is expected to spend the next 30 days hammering Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty for breaking his promises to voters, has a dirty little secret – he’s a promise-breaker himself, wrote The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) Sept. 10.

Tory’s private shame dates to 1977 when he was working long hours running a municipal election campaign and his then-fiancé Barbara Hackett asked him how much longer he was going to dabble in politics. This will be my last campaign, he assured her. Some 30 years later, with a lifetime in politics under his belt, the man who now leads Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives admits "I’m afraid I let her down a bit on that one.”

Since he bought his first Conservative membership at the age of 14 and ran a mayoral campaign while studying law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, Tory has had a hard time staying away. While he’s worked as a lawyer, headed up Rogers Communications and chaired the Canadian Football League, Tory’s real passion has always been politics.

  • Tory’s wife recalls that when she first met him in a French class at York University, he was a volunteer supporting David Crombie’s 1976 mayoral race, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Sept. 8. "He sat down next me in class and his opening line was, "So, what ward do you live in?" Hackett recalls. "Of course, I had absolutely no idea." They were married about a year later.

Hampton eyes province’s balance of power

NDP Leader Howard Hampton, 55, an avid hockey player, still manages to get on the ice two or three nights a week, wrote The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) Sept. 10. But he’ll have to put away his skates if he wants the voting public to not only listen to his policies, but recognize his name, said Robert Drummond at York University. "If you actually go out and ask voters, ‘Do you know who the current leader of the NDP is?’ you’d be surprised how many people won’t know,” Drummond said.

Lions lose a close one

Former all-star CFL defensive back Clifford Ivory learned a great deal from his playing days, including his tenure with the Toronto Argonauts, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 9. And one of those things is not to point fingers for intolerable play. Now the defensive co-ordinator of a York University football team that lost 59-0 to Windsor in its opener last Monday, Ivory knows it makes more sense to encourage young players to fix their mistakes.

And for a good chunk of yesterday’s Ontario University Athletics game, things looked quite promising for a rejuvenated York defensive squad in their match up with the hometown University of Waterloo Warriors. Ivory’s defensive unit was responsible for Waterloo turning the ball over seven times – three fumbles, three interceptions and once on downs. York, however, still found a way to lose.

"As a defence, we played well and much better than the first game, but as a team not well enough to win," said Ivory, who was cautious not to take a shot at York’s floundering offence. "There were some great plays made, but to get the win you have to play as a team."

York head coach Andy McEvoy, who had kudos for the Lions’ defensive efforts, wasn’t very complimentary about the rest of his football team. "We made (Waterloo’s) life easy – especially with our penalties and not converting when the chances were there," said McEvoy, whose team plays host to Guelph next Saturday. "It came down to execution and we didn’t make plays. One out of six points from field goals also says something."

York opened the scoring with some razzle-dazzle when quarterback Mike Crabtree lateralled to Concordia transfer Michael Hyatt, who then found a wide-open Cameron Worsley for a 75-yard pass-and-run play for a touchdown.

  • Thank goodness football victories aren’t awarded based on style points, wrote The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) Sept. 10. Fortified by their defence, the University of Waterloo Warriors survived seven turnovers and hung on to a beastly 18-15 victory over the York Lions in Ontario University Athletics conference play Saturday.
  • Make that four, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Sept. 9. As in games away from tying the all-time Canadian Interuniversity Sport football losing streak of 47, a dubious honour established in the mid-1990s by the York Lions, whom the University of Toronto Varsity Blues will face Sept. 29 for what would be loss 46, although the Lions appear as hapless as the Blues and it could be Toronto’s best shot at a win this season.

On air

  • Robert MacDermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about the provincial election campaign, on CFRB radio (Toronto) Sept. 7.
  • Roberto Perrin, history professor at York’s Glendon College, spoke about the history of religious building in Toronto on Radio Canada Sept. 7.