The media attention on the recent Glee-style “hate” attacks in the Church-Wellesley Village has quickly spun out of control, and many say the issue is nothing more than a few kids behaving badly.
Enza Anderson, a Village activist who once ran for mayor and later ran for city council, wrote an impassioned status update on her Facebook wall Jan 20, calling the Jarvis Collegiate students “Teens of Terror.”
The Sun’s Mike Strobel promptly called Anderson after seeing the note. The next day the Star did a follow-up story. Soon news crews were fanned out across the Village scrounging for tales of students pelting unsuspecting people with shoes and soft drinks.
“When you get a slushie to the face, that’s gay-bashing,” Anderson tells Xtra. “I hope bringing it out in the open will wake these people up.”
If Anderson’s right, and packs of teenagers are roaming the Village armed with Big Gulps, then why isn’t there a police investigation?
Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says there has been no escalation of reported hate crimes in the area. And she did her homework.
She spoke to a number of sources in the Toronto Police Service; the principal at Jarvis Collegiate; Chris Bolton, chair of the Toronto District School Board; staff at the 519 Church Street Community Centre; the Church-Wellesley Village BIA; Susan Gapka, who sits on the Community Safety Committee for the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood association; florist Paul Winsor; and the City of Toronto crisis response unit.
“Consensus was reached and everyone reported the same thing. There’s been no spike in reported activities,” she says. “It’s something that’s been really blown out of proportion.
“In the grand scheme of things, with this many people living in a city neighbourhood, there will be incidents, but there aren’t more incidents than there generally are.”
Toronto police did not return calls from Xtra.
Paul Winsor, a florist at Ladybug flower shop on Church St who was cited in the news reports as one of the victims of the attacks, says “the whole story is getting out of control.” He called the incidents nothing more than “hooliganism.”
“I think the media and certain members of the community are playing up this homophobic side of it for sensationalism,” he tells Xtra. “Is it homophobia? There may be an element of that. But I spoke with another middle-aged lady who they also threw snowballs at, and she looks like my mom. She wasn’t targeted because she was gay, and there were no homophobic slurs to her.”
On Jan 17, while walking along Alexander St, Winsor passed a group of teens that seemed to be looking for a target for a little Glee-style bullying.
“What about him?” Winsor heard one teen shout. “I looked over my shoulder and saw one of them pitch a large cup of pop toward me, and he hit me dead on.”
As he chased the group down the street, one teenager tossed a slushie at Windsor.
“A large chunk of ice was hurled at me, which mercifully missed my head,” he says. “I did manage to duck and avoid it.”
Winsor pursued the group into Jarvis Collegiate, where he reported the incident to a teacher and spoke to administrative staff, who were very supportive, he says.
“This is another fact that certain members of the community are not focusing on,” he says. “They did investigate, as did the police. And all around I’m happy with the response I got.”
Jarvis Collegiate principal Elizabeth Addo did not return calls from Xtra.
Throughout the weekend, Anderson’s Facebook wall filled up with messages thanking her for bringing the issue to light.
Anderson has planned a public meeting at the 519 Church Street Community Centre on Feb 9 from 7 to 9pm.
“If people don’t show up, they are condoning [the teenagers’] actions. Period,” Anderson says.
Anderson says she hopes the media spotlight results in increased education and awareness at the school.
“The school has a responsibility to educate these students as to where they are, what kind of community this is,” Anderson says. “I’m sick and tired of it. I’ve had enough. I don’t want to live in fear in my own neighbourhood.”
But Wong-Tam says the school has many supports and resources in place to educate, prevent and deal with homophobia. Jarvis takes progressive discipline with students who participate in anti-gay bullying, on or off school property.
“Jarvis Collegiate has an ongoing gay-straight alliance program, and all Grade 9 students go through anti-homophobia training,” she says.
“Painting the entire student body as being teens of terror is really sensationalist,” she says.
Wong-Tam had already planned a Church-Wellesley Community Safety Audit on Feb 13 at 1pm. She encourages people to come out, share stories and join a walk around the neighbourhood.
“We will identify hot spots,” she says. “Places that are poorly lit or shaded from public view and allow for criminal behaviour.”
– with files from Justin Stayshyn