Toronto Sun: - Is carrying a knife as common among teens as having a cellphone or a portable music player? Check out our anonymous survey
Toronto Sun: - Is carrying a knife as common among teens as having a cellphone or a portable music player? Check out our anonymous survey

January 13, 2008

Is carrying a knife as common among teens as having a cellphone or a portable music player? Check out our anonymous survey


Are your kids packing knives?

It is a question every right-thinking parent should be posing to their children, and it is a question we want kids to answer -- anonymously if necessary, and as honestly as possible -- in an online survey found today at

Late last week, a major report on school violence urged the Toronto school board to begin regular searches of school lockers to ferret out weapons.

The panel conducting the probe, headed by lawyer Julian Falconer, also suggested in its almost 1,000-page report that the board set up a website so teens could anonymously report violent acts.

Why wait? Start today with our online survey.

The Falconer-led investigation was launched following the shooting death at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate last year of 15-year-old Jordan Manners.

That was then; this is now.

Last Sunday, 14-year-old Stefanie Rengel, the daughter of two Toronto police officers, went to her grave following a tearful funeral ceremony in Toronto's east end, as two teens remained in custody charged with first-degree murder in Toronto's first homicide of 2008.

If that scenario, coupled with the Falconer report, is not enough to spur on debate, there are a substantial number of statistical analyses showing what amounts to a trend towards the packing of knives.

As this newspaper reported shortly after young Stefanie's death, a police source indicated she was allegedly murdered by a now 18-year-old boy -- who, because of his birth date, beat being charged outside the coddling of the Youth Criminal Justice Act by just a few days -- supposedly at the orders of a jealous, controlling 15-year-old girl, who has since turned 16.

But, if true, since when did it become vogue for a boy to confront a 14-year-old girl with a knife at the behest of a young and jealous love interest? Did the then-17-year-old boy pack a knife as a matter of routine?

Was it just there when something twigged? In his pocket? Readily available at any and all times, and for any reason?

Is it a necessary accoutrement in today's youth culture to being cool? To being accepted by one's peers?

We ask those questions, and more, in today's survey. And we ask parents to request that their children fill out our survey, in private, and without adults peering over their shoulder.

It is not long, and it is not complicated.

My e-mail address is at the bottom of the survey, making it as simple as a mouse click for those who wish to go beyond the answering of some simple but important questions.

It would be hugely helpful, as well, to hear from teachers who man the front lines of our schools because, in addition to the Falconer report's findings, there is anecdotal evidence that knives are being seized left, right and centre in our schools, even at the elementary level.

What are the penalties for possessing a knife at school, if any? And are parents told when a knife is seized from their child's person, their school bag or their locker? Are the police notified?

Judging by the Falconer report, the potential for violence is alarming -- with three high schools in the city alone reporting 54 gun incidents within 23 months, as well as 30 other incidents involving everything from knives to Tasers.

It would be helpful, if you've been involved in a knife incident, to know the vicinity of the school, if in the Toronto area. Or the name of the town or city, if outside the GTA.

This survey, for obvious reasons, is far from scientific. But it will hopefully provide some insight as to whether there is a trend.

Statistics already indicate that when murder-by-knife and injury-by-knife numbers are incorporated, violent knife crimes in this city have risen 10% over the last two years.

Does that suggest a trend? Or is it merely a blip?

Staff-Insp. Brian Raybould, head of the city's homicide squad, indicated this week that the increase in shooting deaths in Toronto is still his squad's primary concern, but that the use of knives among the young also has him troubled.

"We investigate murders (in this squad)," he said. "I do not like to isolate murders, as in a 'shooting murder,' or a 'stabbing murder' or a 'beating murder,' because we want to solve them all, and no murder is more or less important than another.

"But kids taking knives to school, walking the streets, and going to the mall while carrying a knife ... well, that's a huge problem," he said.

As reported here last Sunday, Leeds-Grenville MP Gord Brown's private member's bill -- C-393 -- will receive second reading in the spring if Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority government is able to remain afloat. If passed, Bill C-393 will see the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences -- possibly up to eight years imprisonment -- for the use of a knife during the commission of defined crimes and circumstances.

What prompted Brown to table the bill was the December 1998 knife murder of the promising son of two constituents, Paulette and Rod Moffitt of Brockville, whose 23-year-old son, Andy, was stabbed through the heart in an Ottawa bar on the day before Christmas Eve while trying to play Good Samaritan in a fracas.

The young engineering student, who was about to graduate from the University of Ottawa, was posthumously awarded the Governor General's Award for Valour in 2003.

On my desk is a stack of clippings from newspaper archives, all recent, that tell one tale after another about knifings.

It makes for grim reading, but none grimmer than the stories of the parents of Stefanie Rengel hearing on New Year's Day that their daughter was dead from a knife attack, or the parents of 16-year-old Mike Woloshyn finding out their son was stabbed to death at a house party shortly after midnight on New Year's Day in the Manitoba town of Selkirk, with the name of the accused, a 17-year-old boy, also protected by the Youth Criminal Justice Act like those accused of killing Stefanie Rengel.


But grim is grim, and there are examples aplenty.

In December, the Wal-Mart at the Scarborough Town Centre had to be shut down after a 19-year-old man was stabbed, his death from "life-threatening injuries" likely averted by the growing expertise of EMS ambulance personnel who responded to the call.

When found, his vital signs, in fact, were absent.

An 18-year-old man was arrested nearby, with a sign of the times possibly reflected by a Foot Locker employee who said the stabbing hadn't had much of an effect on Christmas shopping.

In a separate incident the same day, four teenagers were stabbed in a fight in the Victoria Park-Sheppard Ave.area, with one of them taken to hospital with serious knife wounds.

And that's just one page -- one page out of a 53-page stack.

Day after day, knife after knife.

   Letter to the Media
   Bill C-393
   Our Angel
   Thank You
   Mike's Speech
   Memorial Speech
   Andy's Story
   Our Brother