[Hpn] Advocates fear wave of homeless murders

Graeme Bacque gbacque@idirect.com
Tue, 06 Jun 2000 05:26:40 -0400


Advocates fear wave of homeless murders

Police have no leads in Sunday's killing,
but attacks on Toronto's street people over the past few months
mimic U.S. hate crimes

MARGARET PHILP
The Globe and Mail

Tuesday, June 6, 2000

Toronto -- The murder of a homeless man, whose throat was slashed in a 
downtown Toronto bus shelter late Sunday night, has left police baffled and 
advocates fearing that homeless people are becoming the newest target for 
vicious hate crimes.

Adrian Vernon Fillmore, 50, was at least the second homeless person to die 
on Toronto's streets in the past few weeks in a seemingly unprovoked 
attack. A bearded and bespectacled native of New Brunswick, Mr. Fillmore 
had claimed the bus shelter on the sidewalk outside an Ontario government 
office building as his home.

The grizzled Mr. Fillmore, who had become a familiar fixture to condominium 
residents near the Bay and Wellesley intersection, was discovered late 
Sunday night, lying in a pool of blood, by a passerby who immediately 
called police. Paramedics arrived minutes later and pronounced him dead 
shortly after midnight.

All day yesterday, police cordoned off the sidewalk and blood-soaked 
shelter with yellow tape. Investigators are scrutinizing videotape 
recordings from remote surveillance cameras mounted in nearby buildings, 
but police are at a loss for suspects, a motive or even the sort of sharp 
weapon that sliced through Mr. Fillmore's neck.

"Unfortunately, at this point, not knowing what happened, I can't really 
determine a motive. There is no obvious motive jumping out," said Detective 
Sergeant Jeff McGuire, the lead homicide investigator.

"I don't know how many people are involved. I really don't have any 
information about a suspect."

Mr. Fillmore left New Brunswick for the streets of Toronto about six years 
ago. His siblings back home were notified yesterday of his death.

Such a cold-blooded murder was all the more shocking because it followed on 
the heels of a series of savage attacks on homeless people over the past 
several months.

In the past two weeks, a homeless man was bludgeoned to death at University 
and Dundas streets and a woman, who only a few days before had been turned 
away from a packed homeless shelter, was shot at point-blank range in the 
Moss Park public-housing development.

And only a month ago, a 40-year-old homeless man sleeping on a park bench 
in Nathan Phillips Square outside Toronto's City Hall lost his right baby 
finger and suffered head injuries when we was attacked with an axe in the 
middle of the night.

Shortly before Christmas, a mentally ill man wandering under the Gardiner 
Expressway suffered severe burns after being set on fire by a gang of 
squeegee kids.

Violence and death are hardly foreign to people living on Toronto streets, 
but until this latest rash of attacks, the assailants would almost always 
turn out to be other homeless people battling over turf or an insult hurled 
in a drunken stupor.

Det. Sgt. McGuire said police will investigate a possible connection 
between Mr. Fillmore's death and other recent assaults on homeless people.

"It's certainly a possibility we'll look at," he said. "There does not seem 
to be any connection. Certainly it's not something we've ruled out."

But advocates for homeless people are starting to fret that the influence 
of a spate of hate crimes against homeless people reported in the United 
States during the past year is creeping across the border.

Over the course of several months last fall, seven homeless people were 
stabbed and beaten to death in Denver -- two of them decapitated -- by 
roving gangs of teenagers and youths in their early twenties who would 
otherwise pass their time hanging out at downtown malls.

In all, there were at least 39 known cases of homeless people killed in 
unprovoked attacks in cities across the United States last year, according 
to the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington. And the 
perpetrators convicted were invariably deadbeat youths.

"It's definitely a trend here in the States," said Michael Stoops, the 
coalition's community organizer.

"We have been lobbying unsuccessfully so far to have homelessness added to 
federal hate-crimes legislation. We all remember the young gay man killed 
in Wyoming. And the black man in Texas, dragged behind a pick-up truck. But 
the fact that 39 homeless people were killed for being homeless by a gang 
of teenagers goes unnoticed."

As homelessness has grown in the United States, people have become hardened 
to stepping over others huddled on street corners, governments have adopted 
a hard line against panhandling and sleeping in parks and the climate has 
become ripe for homeless people to be victimized, Mr. Stoops said.

"Homeless people are out there, and people see them, and they're real easy 
to pick on."

It is a pattern familiar in Toronto, where the province and city police 
service have cracked down on squeegee kids, panhandling and bedding down in 
parks.

"It's like a pump of adrenalin or a pump of testosterone to people who are 
maybe angry or unable to control themselves," said long-time street nurse 
Cathy Crowe. "The message is coming from above, allowing a tolerance for 
this kind of behaviour."

"We didn't use to see [murders], and now we're seeing a clumping of incidents."

With hundreds of shelter beds closing now that the winter season is over, 
more people will be sleeping on Toronto streets and vulnerable to vicious 
attacks, she said.