After a week of online rumours and contradictory reports, student leaders are accusing the Montreal police of mishandling recent cases of assault in the Milton-Parc area.
On April 2 a white male in his forties stabbed a female McGill student, who survived and was hospitalized, in an alleyway behind Aylmer and Prince Arthur. An unsubstantiated rumour of another stabbing in the Milton-Parc area on April 10, followed by an attempted suicide in a park near Hôtel-de-Ville and Prince Arthur on April 11 and two reports of recent sexual assaults, escalated concerns among students that the events were connected.
However, Stéphane Bélanger – police commander for Station 38, which oversees the Milton-Parc area – said that there had been no information about an April 10 stabbing, and that the April 2 and April 11 incidents were unrelated.
“The events have nothing to do with each other; they’re not related,” Bélanger said. “It’s not one person committing all these acts.”
Still, SSMU executives are charging that the police have been slow to respond to students’ concerns, and were not forthcoming with information about attacks in the area.
“While [the police’s] reasoning might be that they don’t want to cause a panic by overwhelming people through releasing information, the way in which they’re going about it isn’t helpful,” said Max Silverman, SSMU VP External Affairs.
According SSMU executives, the account of the April 2 assault first indicated that a man – not a woman – had been “slashed” during a robbery. The account then changed to a woman being robbed, and the latest police report, according to a McGill announcement released Monday, states that a female McGill student required treatment in a hospital “for injuries inflicted by a knife.”
A roommate of the April 2 victim, who wished to remain anonymous, was furious at the police’s original report.
“They had been telling everyone that it was a hoax,” she said. “It wasn’t a robbery like the police said – [the assailant] was intent on harming her.”
The source said her roommate was dragged into an alley off Prince Arthur near Alymer and repeatedly stabbed in the leg and arm. The man took some of her money from her purse.
The victim was hospitalized, and within a week withdrew from McGill and returned home.
Silverman and SSMU President Jake Itzkowitz argued that the police have been difficult to contact. Station 20 on Prince Arthur and Hutchison, which had formerly looked over the area, shut down in March without SSMU’s knowledge, and public spokespersons do not work on Friday afternoons or on the weekend.
Itzkowitz accused the police of trying to keep a tight lid on what may be a dangerous situation.
“I’ve gotten enough [information] that what I’ve heard from the cops – ‘Don’t panic, everything’s fine’ – doesn’t fly,” Itzkowitz said.
Bélanger insisted, however, that the area was safe.
“It’s not necessary to say it’s a dangerous area because that’s not the case,” he said.
McGill Dean of Students Jane Everett and her office have been working through McGill Security to collaborate with the police. Everett maintained that students do not need to feel in danger of an attacker on the prowl.
“People don’t have to be worried about a predator,” Everett said. “If there was a pattern, [the community] would have heard about it already.”
The April 2 case is under investigation, and no charges have been laid.
After rumours began to circulate of the supposed April 10 attack, SSMU Management Councillor Barbara Dourley created a Facebook group on April 11 warning of the attacks and calling on students to be careful walking home at night. The group quickly attracted around 3,500 members.
But since then, no victims or witnesses have come forward from the alleged second attack.
Pierre Barbarie, Associate Director of McGill Security, regretted the way in which information was shared among students.
“There was lots of misinformation, unfortunately, and speculation,” Barbarie said. “That can happen with that type of communication.”
Katarina Lup, U0 Psychology and a resident of New Residence Hall, said the internet rumours sparked fear among students.
“The Facebook group really did initiate a lot of fear,” she said.
But SSMU Management Councillor Kelly McAndrew maintained that it was important for students to know about the events.
“The whole idea of why any information was passed along was to let people know that this happened and that [they] needed to be safe,” she said.
Some students feel they have been denied access to all the facts.
Ada Best, U1 Mathematics, who lives near the site of the first stabbing, asked that more be done to set the record straight.
“We still haven’t been given any real information, only that [other attacks are] not related,” Best said. “I just wish that all the information would come out so the students wouldn’t have to speculate anymore.”
SSMU has been working with Walksafe, a student-run organization that escorts students walking at night, to assist worried students. Usually averaging 180 walks a year, Walksafe has been doing up to 20 walks per night since assault reports started surfacing and is trying to recruit past volunteers to help with the rapid increase in calls.
While Walksafe only operates until 12 or 1 a.m., McGill Security is available to accompany students 24 hours a day within a 10-minute walking radius of campus.
Itzkowitz said SSMU is investigating ways to employ SSMU Security officers in the area.
He urged students to pressure the police to release further information on the reported assaults.
Barbarie said that students should feel comfortable calling both McGill Security at 514-398-3000 and 911. McGill Walksafe can be reached at 514-398-2498.
– with files from Kelly Ebbels