Thursday, November 17, 2005


Teens accused of sexual assault released on bail By ANDREW DAVIDSON
TORONTO (CP) - Frustration and anger boiled over outside a city courtroom Tuesday among parents and friends of 16 teens charged in the alleged sexual assault and harassment of a 16-year-old girl that spanned a year-a-half.
The highly charged atmosphere included suggestions by some that race is a factor in the case. All 16 of the accused are black and the alleged victim is white. Fifteen of the accused were released on bail Tuesday, and one other teen was previously granted bail after his arrest last week.
A handful of vocal parents blasted police and school officials for the arrests, suggesting some students were unfairly viewed as troublemakers.
“Why was the rest of the kids who were arrested black? Is this a racist thing, what is it? Is it a bias?” said the mother of a 16-year-old.
“They (the school) don’t want them there because they waste time and run in the hallways.”
A total of 14 boys and two girls stand accused of harassing the 16-year-old, who came forward last week with allegations of sexual assault, assault, forcible confinement and uttering threats.
The incidents, most of which police said occurred on school property, allegedly began during the second or third week of school last year.
Investigators have alleged the victim was approached by a male student last month and forced into a stairwell, then sexually assaulted. They alleged she was then forced into a washroom where the assault continued.
Outside the overflowing courtroom, about 40 parents, friends and supporters denounced the alleged victim and the charges.
The mother of another charged teen accused police of stereotyping black youths in a pocket of the city plagued by a wave of gang violence in recent months.
“They (the police) want to get them in the system,” she shouted in the hallway as police and lawyers passed.
Some supporters questioned the validity of the charges as a judge ordered the teens to stay away from the alleged victim and James Cardinal McGuigan Catholic High School, where many of the assaults allegedly took place.
Emotions at the courthouse were strong with one outburst from the public gallery.
“They aren’t prisoners,” one person said about the accused in a voice heard throughout the courtroom.
Several of the teens were still wearing the white dress shirts of their school’s uniform as they were led into the courtroom shackled to each other.
The teens were released into house arrest on $1,500 bail except one boy, who was released on $2,000 bail.
They can leave home only under escort to attend school once the district Catholic school board can find one in which to place them.
All are forbidden from having cellphones, pagers, beepers or using the Internet to contact one another.
Defence lawyer Irene Celerities said the nature of the allegations has drawn strong emotions from everyone involved.
“Because the allegations were of a sexual and criminal nature it drew a spark that it otherwise wouldn’t,” Theletritis said outside court.
“Emotions were running high, usually you don’t see that sort of thing.”
Education Minister Gerard Kennedy will be at another Toronto school Wednesday to announce what he’s calling “serious” measures to prevent bullying in the province’s schools.
Earlier this week, Kennedy suggested that training teachers and students how to be aware of and stop bullying will help prevent such incidents.
Samantha Tavares, student council president at the accused’s school, said she hoped students would welcome the alleged victim if she chose to return.
“If the tables were turned, I’m sure that everyone, if they came back to the school, they’d want to feel comfortable and they’d want to put this all behind them,” Tavares said.
She said she didn’t feel comfortable answering whether there were feelings of racial tension and division among students.
But Mary Jo Deighan, spokeswoman for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said she did not believe that the majority of students sensed a racial division at the ethnically diverse school.
“Obviously, within any multicultural school, we need to be sensitive to all of that and we need to be sensitive to address it,” she said.
“I’ve had students come in in pairs and it doesn’t matter what race they are, they’re hanging out together as groups.”
But other students said they were angry over what they called the unjust targeting of their friends.
The accused are to return to court Nov. 25

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