Savage attack in Owen Sound, Ont., has ‘racial overtones’: Mayor

Posted by admin on Aug 1st, 2008

By Michael Oliveira, THE CANADIAN PRESS

  OWEN SOUND, Ont. – Celebrants marking this Georgian Bay community’s historic role as the Underground Railroad’s most northerly safe haven were forced to do some soul searching Friday as Owen Sound struggled to come to grips with a brutal attack city officials believe was tinged with racism.  A 42-year-old Toronto man, his identity as yet unknown, was recovering in hospital after he was savagely beaten and stabbed by a group of men Tuesday following an altercation with a 17-year-old girl that police believe was a case of mistaken identity.  There are indications that racism may have played a role in escalating the attack, Owen Sound Mayor Ruth Lovell admitted Friday.

“I don’t think that it was racially motivated, but I think there are racial overtones to what did happen,” Lovell said.

“I think the incident started with a mistaken identity situation, but I think that once it escalated to the point of the beating, that there will be racial overtones that come forward … remarks that were made, insults, language that would be racially inflammatory.”

Police have said a 17-year-old female, who had been drinking, mistook the victim – who is black – for another man and began verbally and physically assaulting him. The accosted man managed to call police before the teen summoned a group of men from a nearby apartment.

The victim was punched, kicked, struck with a two-by-four and stabbed in the chest at least once; police have described his injuries as “close to life-threatening.”

Lovell said it would be “naive” to think racism didn’t play a role in the Tuesday night attack.

Ironically, Friday marked the first day of the 146th Emancipation Celebration Festival – an annual event commemorating Owen Sound’s status as the last stop along the Underground Railroad network that helped slaves escape their U.S. captors in the 1800s.

Organizers said the incident would render a scheduled speech by Rev. James Lawson – once praised by Martin Luther King Jr. as the world’s leading theorist and strategist of non-violence – even more poignant for the community.

Petal Furness, the festival’s heritage interpretation co-ordinator, said the community is embarrassed and ashamed by an incident that comes as a shock, given both Owen Sound’s deep links to black history as well as its prominent aboriginal and Jewish communities.

“I just think it’s so totally out of character for anything like that to have happened here, I just could not believe it was true,” Furness said.

“Those actions were so not in keeping with what we’re known for here.”

According to data from the 2006 census, only three per cent of Owen Sound’s population identifies itself as a visible minority, and fewer than one per cent of the city’s residents are black.

Locals, however, vehemently insisted Friday there’s no undercurrent of racism in the city.

Though the attack was a brutal one, it was an isolated incident that could happen anywhere in Canada, said Owen Sound resident Donna Cruickshank, 58.

“I really haven’t given it much thought since,” Cruickshank said near the downtown intersection where the crime occurred.

“These things do happen, bizarre things happen everywhere. I think the biggest thing is just the feeling of sadness that that happened to someone.”

Book store owner Karry Browne said he wasn’t really surprised to hear about what happened just half a block from his shop.

Browne, 44, has lived in the city his whole life, and operated his bookstore for the past 12 years. He said he doesn’t believe the attack was racially motivated, but noted that Owen Sound is not the idyllic, picture-perfect place some residents would like to believe it is.

“You can find whatever you want in town – drugs, you name it, they’re here,” Browne said. “Any of these guys who say there’s nothing wrong with Owen Sound, they’re crazy, or they just don’t see it.”

Lovell said she hopes most local residents and tourists will feel the same way and won’t be afraid to go downtown.

“I’m realistic enough to know that an incident like this is going to give some people pause, but I think that for the most part, the people in this community will understand that this is absolutely an unusual incident and not the type of thing that happens on a regular basis in Owen Sound,” she said.

“What would be very upsetting is that these young hooligans will have changed that for the community and there’s no way that they should be allowed that kind of power.”

An editorial in Friday’s Owen Sound Sun Times newspaper cited a recent report that warned of a “perceived deterioration” of safety in the city’s downtown core.

Shawn Dyer, Cody Doherty and Blaine McEachern, all 19, are each charged with assault with a weapon and aggravated assault, while the 17-year-old female – who can’t be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act – faces an assault charge.

Owen Sound police deputy Chief Bill Sornberger said the victim, who has asked that his name not be released, was still in Owen Sound hospital Friday but has been moved out of the intensive care unit.

Comments are closed.