Thursday, September 08, 2005

Reason # 1 not to have an army (or any bases near populated areas)

Death follows soldiers' party
Reservists celebrated after returning from combat exercise
Homeless man later fatally beaten in park near armoury
The three reserve soldiers charged in the beating death of a downtown homeless man had just returned from 10 days of simulated war combat, an army spokesman said yesterday.
The exercises, named "Stalwart Guardian" and involving 3,000 reservists from across the country, took place Aug. 19-28 at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa northwest of Ottawa, said Maj. Tim Lourie, spokesman for the Toronto armed reserves.
Participating reservists from the Queen's Own Rifles, attached to the downtown Moss Park Armoury, celebrated the end of the war games two days later, on Tuesday last week, with a number of German exchange soldiers.
The army-sanctioned party took place not at the armoury, at Jarvis and Queen Sts., as reported earlier, but at the Bier Markt bar on The Esplanade. The party broke up about 10:30 p.m. and "different groups went in different directions," Lourie said.
About six hours later, Paul Croutch, a 59-year-old homeless man, was fatally beaten in his sleeping bag on the park grounds of the John Innes Community Centre, next to the armoury. A woman who witnessed the beating was also attacked.
Charged with second-degree murder and assault causing bodily harm are Queen's Own Rifles reserve soldiers Brian Deganis, 21, Jeffery Hall, 21, and Mountaz Ibrahim, 23.
Deganis and Ibrahim are to make their first court appearance this morning.
A rally and memorial for Croutch is scheduled for 11 a.m. today in Moss Park, at Queen and Sherbourne Sts., near where he died, as the slaying begins to galvanize poverty activists.
The armoury, a formidable piece of '60s architecture with three pieces of artillery on its front lawn, occupies a patch of one of the city's most blighted neighbourhoods. It is surrounded by missions, homeless shelters, drop-in centres and subsidized highrise residences.
The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, an anti-poverty group which is organizing the rally, says the armoury is underutilized and should be torn down in favour of public housing.
"Close down Moss Park Armoury, build affordable housing instead," read one rally placard being prepared yesterday at the All Saints Church drop-in centre at Sherbourne and Dundas Sts.
"We've been calling for the government to turn the (armoury) building into affordable housing for years," relief committee member Danielle Koyama said while helping with the signs. "The need for housing is much greater than the need for them to do floor exercises."
The outcry comes at a time of major expansion for reserve branches of the Canadian Forces as the country increases its overseas peacekeeping commitments in such places as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Sudan.
The Moss Park Armoury is a "busy facility," home to 600 reservists and more than 100 cadets, Lourie said. During the day, planners and support staff use it for offices. Every night and on most weekends, four separate reserve units use it for training.
The average reserve soldier trains one night a week and one weekend a month.
Of Canadian troops being deployed overseas, up to 25 per cent are drawn from reservists, Lourie said.
Reservists also make up a significant portion of the domestic emergency response force, he said. In 1998, 600 army reservists from Toronto responded to the ice storm in eastern Ontario, 200 of them from the Moss Park Armoury. The city's two other armouries are at Fort York and Downsview.
Paul Croutch was a "sweet, sweet man, a sweetie," said Wendy Babcock, an outreach worker with the Street Health agency who is to speak at today's rally.
Croutch had a history of psychiatric problems. He didn't like drama, arguments or fights, Babcock said, and for that reason preferred to sleep in parks rather than at shelters.

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