Police view footage from York cameras

Using surveillance video and statements from possible witnesses, investigators are working feverishly to catch two sexual predators who raped two women in a dorm at York University last week, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 11.

Detectives are worried that the suspects, who together entered six unlocked dorm rooms at Vanier College early last Friday morning as students slept and attempted to attack a third woman, could re-offend. The suspects, two men in their 20s and still at large, worked "in tandem" to commit the rapes – behaviour that’s considered "extremely unusual," said Det. Christine Long, of the Toronto police Sex Crimes Unit.

"I’ve never seen this before," Long said. "We’re not talking a home invasion here. Sexual assault is based on deviant behaviour of one person. It’s not about sex. It’s about power and control. Two offenders working in tandem for a single goal – this is not the norm."

The suspects’ team effort makes them particularly dangerous, Long said, because they always outnumber a victim, allowing her little chance of escape. She hopes media coverage of the incidents will inspire the pair, both described as white with medium to tall builds, to "take a breather."

"I want to shut them down so they go in hiding," Long said. "What’s done is done. What I care about is that they don’t repeat it."

The Star said investigators are reviewing footage from surveillance video cameras around York University and ploughing through a high volume of tips and information, trying to track the suspects’ "every move." After three days of canvassing the residence, Long said officers will continue to question residents and she’s encouraging anyone with information, no matter how seemingly insignificant or silly, to tell police what they know.

Gregg McCrary, a retired FBI profiler, said this series of assaults doesn’t seem like an "entry-level" offence and the two suspects probably aren’t new to crime. He called the suspects’ team effort "unusual," noting people who commit such crimes often lack the interpersonal skills to form relationships with other men, let alone become close enough with them to concoct such a violent plan.

York University remains under a campus-wide alert and officials are asking that students, staff and faculty report any suspicious behaviour. On-site counselling has been made available to students, and posters warning the student body to be vigilant are plastered around campus. The number of staff and police in all residences and on the grounds has been increased, as have security patrols.

York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri issued a statement saying these are "devastating events that shake us to the core" and urging students to be "extra cautious."

  • Detective Christine Long of Toronto police’s sex crimes unit says there is a chance the perpetrators were caught on camera, but spotting them in the footage may be a challenge, wrote the National Post Sept. 11 .

The suspects are described as white and in their early twenties, said Long, which means they blended in with the student population. She added: "They were comfortable, they weren’t antsy at all. So I would say they’re one of three: I am a student, I was a student or I know a student."

At York, female students shuddered at the thought of the attacks. "On a grand scale, you think schools, you think safe, but it’s not really the case," said Rita Boodram, a second-year social work student.

The men were able to get into the Vanier residence, which has a doorkeeper at high traffic hours and requires student access cards, and entered six rooms in the span of a few hours.

"We have no idea how people got in here. Of course, just like in an apartment building, people do tailgate. Sometimes people let others in through the back way, thinking they’re doing them a favour," said Alex Bilyk, a spokesperson for York.

  • Keith Marnoch, York’s associate director of media relations, said officials have beefed up staffing in all residences, including Vanier, which will have employees 24 hours a day, wrote The Toronto Sun Sept. 11. The campus’ goSAFE shuttle service has changed routes, offering door-to-door service, and there are more foot patrols to escort female students and staff around the sprawling university grounds.

"This is a very unfortunate and exceptional incident," Marnoch said. "Without question, we will be figuring out what happened and working to enhance what we already do." The University is also offering counselling to anyone shaken by the attacks.

"I’m jumpy. It’s scary," student Amy Tschupruk, 18, said. "You don’t want something like this to happen and to happen so close." Student Senaa Ahmad, 18, nearly walked home alone from Vanier residence the night before the attacks, but a friend volunteered to escort her to her residence.

  • News of the assaults continued to make headlines on television and radio stations across the country. CBC’s "The National" interviewed people from across the country Sept. 10 on the issue of campus security in general. Reporter Laurie Graham told viewers:

    York is not the only campus to report sexual violence. Last week, a Carleton student was raped and beaten in the lab where she was working, and three women were assaulted in separate attacks near Laurentian University in Sudbury, all incidents that have students across the country concerned about their safety.

  • A report on campus security by Hamilton’s CHCH-TV Sept. 10 featured a reporter walking the hall of a residence at McMaster University and knocking on students’ doors for 20 minutes before being asked to leave.
  • Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, was interviewed by several radio and television stations, including the CBC, Global, City-TV, CFMT-TV and Omni television. Precious Yutangco, news editor at Excalibur, was also interviewed by CBC Radio Toronto, OMNI-TV and CFMT-TV. Several York students were interviewed or gave their opinions on phone-in shows.

YFS vice-president rejects idea of permanent police patrols on campus

There is no place for armed police patrols on university and college campuses to fortify them against vicious assaults and shooting sprees, say student leaders and campus security staff, wrote CanWest News Service Sept. 11. Despite recent sex assaults at two Ontario universities, the Canadian Federation of Students, the York Federation of Students and an organization of campus security heads said that calling in police for routine patrols with guns at their sides would threaten the campus atmosphere of freedom and openness.

Although local police forces are often called to campus when crimes occurs, they do not routinely patrol the areas, although they may do so occasionally as part of their beats. York’s Gilary Massa said although she has been looking over her shoulder in recent days, she rejects the idea of a permanent police presence on campus. "I am of the opinion that there is no room for armed security on campus," said Massa, vice-president equity for the York Federation of Students. "I feel the campus is fairly safe on a day-to-day basis."

Security lacking at York, says alumna

As a recent graduate of York University, I was horrified to hear the latest reports of sexual assaults on campus, wrote Rebecca Hall in a letter to the Toronto Star Sept. 11. However, after living in residence during my four years at York, it does not come as a surprise that strangers easily gained entry.

Even though students require a key or card to enter residence facilities, it is common for others to "tailgate" by simply following a student into a building. If the person following the student holds the door, there is little the student can do to prevent that person and successive people from entering. Porters who sign guests in and out of residences are only on duty between 6pm and 2am. This means that during the day, no one monitors who enters or leaves a building.

Experts split on school reforms

Anyone hoping to abolish public funding for Catholic schools in Ontario had better get started. After all, it took more than 40 years for Quebec to reform its public education system, abolishing Catholic and Protestant boards in favour of integrated, secular schools, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Sept. 11.

Green Party Leader Frank de Jong believes a consensus for secularization already exists in Ontario, and that amending the Constitution would be "very easy." But the consensus would have to exist not only among Ontarians at large, but also among practising Roman Catholics, said constitutional expert Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Osgoode’s McCamus comments on increased funding for legal aid

A $51-million infusion of public money over three years will give the province’s Legal Aid system a boost as it struggles with the increasing needs of low-income Ontarians, according to the agency’s Chair, wrote the Brantford Expositor Sept. 11. John McCamus, recently appointed Legal Aid Ontario Chair, spoke to an audience of about 60 local legal professionals on Sept. 10 at the annual opening of the courts held at the Ontario Court building on Queen Street in Brantford.

McCamus, also a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, said that positive change is in the air with a new emphasis on accountability and measuring the effectiveness of spending. The budget increase, announced earlier this year, will allow Legal Aid to increase funding for the defence of complicated criminal cases, to expand services in French, to study the needs of aboriginal clients and to issue more Legal Aid certificates to clients needing representation in family courts, among other initiatives, he said.

On air

  • Robert Drummond, political science professor and dean of York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about the provincial election on CKPR radio (Thunder Bay) and Toronto’s 680 News radio Sept. 10.
  • Ian Roberge, political science professor at York’s Glendon College, spoke about the provincial election, on Radio Canada and TFO television Sept. 10.