Predator attacks, now kills, poor

and mentally challenged residents of Parkdale

By Frances Sedgwick
True North Perspective
Frances Sedgwick's keen eye and ear for the human condition reveals the heart and soul of Parkdale in southwest Toronto, one of the country's most turbulent urban areas where the best traditions of human kindness prevail against powerful forces that would grind them down. True North Perspective proudly presents a column by writer Frances Sedgwick. Her critical observation combined with a tender sense of humour will provide you with something to think about ... and something to talk about.

I had just returned from a visit to Ottawa and, although I enjoyed my visit, I also enjoyed my return to Parkdale.

I went to one of my favourite coffee bars to have a chat and a coffee.  I read the paper and was surprised to read about beatings of some residents in my neighbourhood and that one of the victims had just died in hospital as a result of his injuries. 

The article read, "Police say the common thread between all five victims is that they suffer from mental health problems." The assailant wore a "balaclava" so none of the victims could identify him.

I left the cafe. It was snowing heavily and I put up the hood on my jacket.

As I was walking down the street a man, his jacket wide open, his hair a wild mess, his face not shaven, came staggering towards me yelling. As he got to me he suddenly put his hand on my cheek. I recoiled quickly, then he said something about "chubby" cheeks".

I started walking faster with the newspaper article fresh in my mind.  A young woman was coming toward me, I said "Did you see that?"  She nodded yes.

She said he had been yelling up the street. Well, we are use to the mentally challenged in Parkdale and I usually am not alarmed at strange behaviour.

After reading the news article of course I reacted spontaneously. But I did conclude he was harmless and continued on my way, a little annoyed at myself for being upset by this harmless individual who had just commented on my "chubby cheeks".

I continued down the street in the snowstorm. As I came to my intersection I saw a City TV cameraman taking pictures of a building across the street.  Being my curious self I waited until he was finished and asked what he was filming.

He responded, "I'm taking a picture of "PARC" there is a meeting there today. I  said, "Oh."

Now PARC stands for Parkdale Action and Recreation Centre, a community place where the homeless, mentally challenged and poor can come, get a free meal and socialise. There is always community meetings and happenings there.

As I approached the building I asked about the meeting.

"About the beatings and now the murder in our community," several people responded.

I entered to an absolutely packed forum.  Over a hundred people crammed in like sardines.

The police were speaking, informing people on how to be prepared if attacked.

All the community groups spoke. Parkdale Legal, The Mental Health Centre, ARCHWAY, and more.

I felt so proud. Here was my community pulling together to arm themselves against this attacker.

Although the assailant seemed to be targeting people with mental health problems, all walks of life were represented in that hall. Everyone listening keenly to the speakers.

Residents were told to try to walk in twos or threes. We were all given a whistle, and we were also told to scream loudly, to cause a commotion if threatened. And to report to the police any suspicious persons.

This of course made me nervous, especially since my apartment building was located within the targeted area. A few doors up and around the corner.

I talked to someone from ARCHWAY, a program to rehabilitate people.

He said the attacker seemed to be targeting mentally challenged people in the specific area where so many of these people lived.

The owners of the buildings promised to put on extra security.

The occupants of these buildings were given special instructions including when going out for a smoke don't go alone.

George, the person who had just died, had been attacked right on the porch where he lived as he was smoking in broad daylight. "Put a note on your door if you need a companion to join you for a smoke", were the instructions for residents. 

This conversation brought to mind the terrible conditions the mentally challenged have to live in. Not properly supervised. Small rooms to call home. I have seen some of them. A lot of these so-called homes are not even licensed to deal with the problems of the residents.

There are so many of these "homes" in Parkdale because many neighbourhoods in  Toronto have the attitude of "not in my backyard". Very sad.

The person I was talking with from ARCHWAY also said it was once again an attack on the poor and mentally challenged. Trying to scare people away from Parkdale.

I said to him, "I love Parkdale and defend my neighbourhood from those who say to me, how can you live in Parkdale?" 

I have lived here forty-one years and don't intend to move. No scare tactics can make me or my neighbours move.

We will defend ourselves against this monster and he will eventually be caught or driven out.

My Parkdale.

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