CRIME

The brutal truth

Violent gangs instil fear in once-staid Ottawa

LUKE FISHER November 13 1995
CRIME

The brutal truth

Violent gangs instil fear in once-staid Ottawa

LUKE FISHER November 13 1995

The brutal truth

CRIME

Violent gangs instil fear in once-staid Ottawa

When police entered the apartment, the air was still heavy with the smell of burned flesh. On the floor lay the body of 17-year-old Sylvain Leduc, dead of asphyxiation after being tortured and beaten for 3½ hours. Beside him lay another teenage boy and two of his female cousins, still alive but also badly beaten—and one of the girls had been sexually assaulted with a hot curling iron. Those heinous crimes occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 26, in a highrise apartment in the Ottawa suburb of Nepean. And they have left many residents of the nation’s capital wondering how safe their normally staid and quiet city really is. “Sadistic torture and murder—here?” asked Maureen Chopra, who lives with her husband and baby daughter down the street from the highrise where Leduc died. “It’s supposed to happen in other places.”

Ottawans have long liked to think that real danger lurks in places like Toronto and Montreal. But there have been 18 murders in the capital this year, compared with seven for all of 1994. The killing of Leduc and the brutality of the crimes have stirred fear and swirling rumors, even as police have urged people not to panic. And as two suspects remained at large last week—and as members of the gang to which they belong taunted Leduc’s family, witnesses and police— Ottawans’ fears seemed very real indeed. The nighttime trail of violence started in

Vanier, a municipality within Ottawa. On Oct.

24, a gun-toting man burst into Leduc’s home and grabbed the teenager’s 16-year-old cousin.

The man took her to an apartment building on Banner Road in Nepean, then returned to Vanier to abduct Leduc and the two other teens. In the Nepean highrise, Leduc was tortured with a curling iron, beaten and asphyxiated. While one of his cousins was sexually assaulted, the other two teens were beaten. “They were prepared to kill all four if they had had the time,” said Ottawa-Carleton police Supt. Garry Rae.

Hours after the kidnappings, police, who were investigating reports of gunshots in the area, quickly arrested six teens running from the Banner Road highrise. But three others believed responsible for the killing escaped. One of them, a 17-year-old girl, was captured on Nov. 1. And by week’s end police had charged five teenagers (who cannot be identified under the Young Offenders Act) and three adults—Mark Williams, 19, Fiona Bayne, 19, and Diane Crawford, 18—on 60 counts of assault, kidnapping and forcible confinement. Police also issued warrants for two other men— Keith Edwards, 25, and 24-year-old John

Richardson—who were still at large but were believed to be in the Ottawa area.

Police said that they have received little co-operation from the suspects already in custody—who likely fear the same kind of attack. But all of them have been linked to the Ace Crew, a black street gang involved in prostitution and in Ottawa’s burgeoning crack-cocaine trade. Before the Leduc murder, police had never heard of the Ace Crew, but they have since learned of its street-level drug dealing, some of it occurring just minutes from Parliament Hill. Police say they believe that Richardson and Edwards are the gang’s leaders. In fact, Richardson, who was released from prison in September after serving two-thirds of a prostitution-related sentence, had been under a court order to stay away from one of the accused. And at week’s end, police were checking with antigang squads in Montreal and Toronto, seeking links to the Ace Crew, as well as possible connections to American gangs. Rae says he suspects that the same group is responsible for an attack on Oct. 24—the day before the abductions—in which a teenager was taken to the same apartment, shot in the head and left for dead. Not seriously hurt, he escaped after his attackers left, and contacted police.

The fact that the suspects still at large are black and the victims were white has introduced a racial element to the case. In court on Oct. 27, a male relative of Leduc’s extended his forefinger and thumb like a gun, pointed it at one of those charged and uttered a racial slur before muttering, ‘You’re dead.” And on Oct. 29, several young black men taunted mourners outside the funeral home where Leduc’s body was lying, drawing the chalk outline of a body on the pavement and yelling, “One down and three to go.” Last week, the victim of the sexual assault, who cannot be identified, was moved to a more secure part of a local hospital after police spotted two young men lurking near her room.

Although police concede that youth crime is on the rise—due largely to increased use of crack cocaine—they insist that the city is still safe from gangs. And law enforcement authorities have so far rejected calls for the formation of a special anti-gang squad. But the assurances have not comforted Leduc’s parents. Asked his distraught mother, Carole Maheu: “How can you be in the wrong place at the wrong time when you are in your own home?” Leduc’s stepfather, Claude Barre, had a more visceral reaction to the crimes. ‘You’ve got to be an animal,” declared Barre, “to do something like that.”

LUKE FISHER in Ottawa