Listening to the mainstream media yesterday report and discuss the recent arrest of a 15 year old boy in connection with what police suggest was a series of sexual assaults on ramdom women in the Christie Pitts area I got the impression that the young person was already tried, adjudged guilty and awaiting sentencing. The fact that this young person is supposed to enjoy the presumption of innocence under our law was totally lost in the reporting. The cries of "innocense" and "set up" by individuals connected to the young person and reported in the mainstream press were reported as a mere afterthought. The thrust of the reporting and discussion focussed on the young person's "perversion" as opposed to "alleged perversion"and the penalty he should receive.
The purpose of this brief piece is to illustrate the short-comings of the mainstream media reporting on this very important case involivng a 15 year old child accused of very, very serious wrong-doing in circumstances that call for greater scrutiny and openness in the prosecution process. As it stands the public can not know the circumstances which led to this young person's arrest unless they attend court. The reality is that the police are in total control of all of the facts.
Did the police employ a sting-type operation in the arrest and charge of this young person ? A sting-type operation in the circumstances of a sexual assault charge is where the police effectively use an undercover officer to entice a person to touch them and charge them for so doing. In 2002 I asked the Supreme Court of Canada to answer whether such sting operations were a violation of the Charter in the context of a gay sting operation carried out by Waterloo Region Police Service. The rationale underlying my thinking is that the offence of sexual assault is not amendable to this type of clandestine operation because sexual contact is not prima facie illegal unlike drug trafficking and soliciting for the purpose of prostitution. For sexual contact to become a crime requires a lack of consent. When the state invites sexual contact only to characterize the response as a crime this is clearly an abuse of process. The National Post recognized this important point in their editorial on Webb v. Waterloo Region Police entitled Police Indecency some years ago.
My review of the press conference and the manner in which the 15 year old suspect was processed raises serious questions pointing in the direction that police employed a sting-type operation in the arrest of this young person. Setting aside the constitutionality of these sting-type operations with respect to the offence of sexual assault, the more troubling question is the fact that - assuming this was the manner of capture - it does not necessarily follow that the suspect was involved in other offences. The following are the facts as I have been able to gleen which support the contention that a sting-type operation may have been used:
- The history of the complaints. They come immediately following public questions about public safety and police effectiveness flowing from the recent shootings.
- Vagueness in historical i.d. What did the reports of i.d. suggest ?
- Use of the media. Press conference at time of bail hearing. The National Post's story was published befofre the bail hearing was concluded it appears.
- Bail denied to young person
- Chief Blair quoted as saying - "not a sting"
- Chief Blair quoted on the TPS website as "We had women in our organization who put themselves in harms way and went into that community and put themselves at risk knowing that, if they were successful in their mission, they could also be the victim of an assault."
The offence of sexual assault is a very serious matter for victims and the whole of society. History has shown however that it is often improperly used by police. When police in Waterloo wanted to stop gay men from crusing in Kitchener's Homer Watson Park they sent in P.C. Gillingham to play the role of a gay decoy and two men were arrested for sexual assaulting him and a press conferences was called soon after the arrests praising the good police work in "cleaning the park of homosexual activity."
I had an uneasy feeling when I heard of the young person's arrest and my concerns have been become more serious in light of the words of Chief Blair and the very careful optics at the press conference and the very careful use of what I describe as "controlling the issue". Controlling the issue means that the police are in total control of the facts on this story. The victims in a sexual assault are traditionally shielded. I suspect that this is likely the case here. The fact that the suspect is a 15 year old means that the media's ability to scrutenize the facts and the story itself is almost impossible. My dad always told me that all that glitters is not necessarily gold. I see what daddy meant. I just wish that others -especially our mainstream media were a little bit more vigilant in at least attempting to get the real story and not simply what they are fed by the police. It is my sense that the real story here has yet to be uncovered. Is this an example of what the Toronto Police Service learned from the Jane Doe case ?