September 11 - 18, 1997. No. 336

Krishna Rau

Losing her faith, but finding herself

Jane Doe lawsuit calls cops on their attitudes towards Church & Wellesley

Jane Doe alleges that Metro Toronto Police, already obsessed with harassing the neighborhood's gay men and prostitutes, once decided to use women in the Church and Wellesley area as bait for a serial rapist.

After 10 years of delays and obstructions, Doe's lawsuit has finally come to court. But the Toronto woman, who is suing the police for failing to warn her of the rapist, says she has lost faith in the legal system's ability to help people.

"I consider the legal forum to be very regressive," she says in an interview before the trial, which started Sept. 8. "I think that all of us have to examine going to the court or legal system to bring about change. I know that it's been used as a hammer by those in power to keep us down.

Doe says, nonetheless, that her suit has considerable significance for gay men and lesbians, as well as for women in general, in dealing with police and their attitudes.

On Aug. 24, 1986, Jane Doe (whose real name is protected by court order) was sexually assaulted in her Church-Wellesley apartment by a serial rapist preying on women in the area. Doe launched her suit against the police after discovering that they knew of the rapist's existence, but had decided not to warn women in hopes of catching the man in the act.

The police, Doe alleges, even had a profile of the type of women he targeted - and Doe fit it. She was single, white dark-haired, and living in a second or third floor apartment with a balcony, in the gay village. The rapist entered his victim's apartment via the balcony. Doe says the police used women in part because they don't care about the people in that neighbourhood.

"It was in the Church-Wellesley area. The police were busy harassing sex trade workers and gay men. The police made a conscious decision to use women in the area as bait, especially me, as it turns out."

Says Doe: "Very strong parallels can be drawn between this and gaybashing and the murder of gays. Gays and lesbians are an identifiable group who are systematically discriminated against by police and society. I hope police would look at, examine and unlearn their homophobia."

Police caught the rapist soon after his attack on Doe, through a tip rather than through the stakeout. He was sentenced to 20 years. Doe says she decided to sue the police both as a means of saving herself and of protecting others from police. "I consider rape to be a political act, and I looked for a political act to address it: The police, their sexist attitudes towards the crime and towards the women who were raped. I didn't feel that justice had been done."

The police originally challenged Doe's right to sue them. It took three years and a Supreme Court ruling before it was decided that the suit could proceed. Since then, police lawyers have filed numerous delaying motions and created a number of legal challenges. Doe says she thought the force would be willing to settle the case long before this. "I never thought this would go to trial. I thought this would be a win-win case. I'm asking for very reasonable things. What I'm asking is that they enshrine warning as a protocol."

Doe, who is also seeking $1.2 million in compensation, says she will stick with it. "I persisted because I had to. It was a way of taking back some of the things that had been taken away from me as a result of my rape: my power and my dignity. Any woman looks for a way to get back that part of her that was killed. And I was fortunate enough to find it."

And Doe says she thinks her case has already made some progress in dealing with police. "As a result of my case, you can sue the police for their actions in the course of an investigation. You couldn't do that before Jane Doe. I think I won in the court of public opinion."

But Doe says that she expects the police lawyers to aggressively attack her in the court case. "After 10 years, I'm going to have to take the stand and be questioned on my sexual history. We've come full circle, back to when the woman is to blame. I'm suing the police for negligence. It would be more appropriate for [ police chief ] David Boothby to defend his past sexual history. Or [ chair of the Metro Toronto Police Services Board ] Maureen Prinsloo."

It's this sort of ordeal, Doe says, that makes women so reluctant to report rapes to the police. This situation is even worse for lesbians, she says. "There is no place in the legal system for a lesbian to talk about her rape." Doe says she hopes that gay men and lesbians will attend the court case -- to see how truly limited the legal system is in its ability to defend victims.

"Too many of us haven't been to court. We don't understand its elitism."

Six weeks have been set aside for the case, which is being heard in Ontario Court, General Division, from 10 am, Monday to Friday, at 361 University Ave.

"Balcony Rapist" case... [Fiona Stewart]

Created: March 8, 1999
Last modified: March 8, 1999

J.D. Jane Doe, c/o Walnet Institute
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710
Email: janedoe@walnet.org