City Centre Mirror
In the wake of a string of reported sexual assaults in the Bloor and Christie streets area, hundreds of concerned residents descended on Christie Pits Park Monday night, Sept. 3, to speak out against violence against women.
The action brought out politicians including local councillor Mike Layton and MPPs Rosario Marchese, Cheri DiNovo and Jonah Schein, who joined some 300 men and women to call for an end to sexual assault and violence.
Rally co-organizer Liz Brockest said she and her fellow organizers wanted to bring people together to show that sexual assault would not be tolerated.
“I feel angry, but I feel incredibly empowered and amazed at the resistance people are showing,” she said. “It shows people are conscious about the violence that takes place in our streets and our homes.”
The rally came about quickly, with social networking linking the rally-goers and bringing them together in a matter of a few short days.
“People have really come together because of how supportive this community is,” Brockest said. “The main message tonight is that everyone deserves to feel safe in our homes and in our streets.”
Many in the crowd held up signs condemning sexual assault and carried those messages with them as the group marched through the area following a series of speeches.
George Brown College professor and social activist Anna Willats said the turnout for the rally was heartening and called on those present to strive to put a stop to violence against women.
“Any time you see a man oppress a woman...let’s have this many people out to say we refuse to accept this,” she said. “We refuse to uphold this rape culture we’re living in.”
Willats called on Mayor Rob Ford and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to work to stop the culture of violence against women that continues. She noted the fight to stop such crimes was not limited to the women who are subjected to violence.
“We need men to be doing more to stop other men from doing and getting away with this crap,” she said.
DiNovo noted she took part in a Take Back the Night march 45 years ago and pointed out that, despite the advances that have been made in women’s rights, sexual assault sets that battle back.
“Until (women) can walk safely (in the streets) we will never have equality,” she said. “It’s not ok that men can walk through parks and we can’t. It’s not ok that men can dress suggestively and we can’t.”
Layton said the assaults were appalling but noted that the Christie Pits community is tight-knit, saying the rally was just the latest sign that people in the area care for the safety of their neighbours. He said he heard more complaints that residents in the area were frustrated and angry over the series of sexual assaults than he heard concerns over personal safety.
“That’s the type of community we have down here,” he said. “People look out for one another here. People think ‘these are our streets, this is our neighbourhood.’”
The rally was a response to 10 reported sexual assaults, eight of which happened in the immediate area and two of which occurred south of the area. In all 10 cases, women reported being approached from behind and sexually assaulted. Police believe the suspect in all 10 cases is the same individual.
Police are still looking for the suspect, who has been described as a black male, 25 to 40 years of age, roughly 5’7” to six feet tall with a medium to stocky build. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 416-808-7474 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-8477.