Christie Pits residents take their neighbourhood back

While the suspect in a string of sneak-attack sexual assaults near Christie Pits was charged with two new counts of assault this week, police say no new incidents have occurred since the teen’s arrest in October. But the peace and quiet hasn’t stopped local residents from efforts to beef up security in the neighbourhood.

While still in the formative stages, the Christie Pits Residents’ Association’s Safety Committee is putting a focus on communication, assuming that if neighbours know each other- and have easy channels to report sketchy occurrences or pass along pertinent information-then the neighbourhood will become less accommodating to ne’er-do-wells.

The Association’s goals include setting up a neighbourhood watch system, developing a structure for communicating with people who don’t use the Internet, and local school outreach on sexual assault awareness. They’ve also organized a free self-defense course for area women, which has already reached its enrollment capacity, and hope to provide support to those who have experienced sexual assault.

“There was a woman [at one of our meetings] saying she had spoken to her neighbours and they knew nothing about the attacks or the arrest,” group co-chair Cristina Juarez Nilsson told NOW this week. “At first that seems hard to believe, but if people are elderly, new immigrants, or have a hectic work schedule, you can see how the information might not get though.”

It’s no small agenda, but nothing will break the stride of the CPRA, which is riding high on a significant increase of interest- a 15 per cent increase in membership and a 30 per cent spike on their Facebook group since the assaults began in August. Membership now sits at about 300, many of whom are suddenly energized to take gropey lemons and make community-spirit lemonade.

“It actually is reinvigorating for me,” says Juarez Nilsson. “It’s those things that are a crisis that bring people together… When Christie Pits was a garbage dump [during the 2009 garbage strike], people got very heated as well. But through getting over that, we ended up finding out about a lot of amazing work going on in the area, like art shows or dances in the park. We want to share those sorts of things and have people coming out of their homes and meeting other people.”

This Saturday, members of the group will meet in the park to distribute flyers to local residents. Among other things, the handbills will urge people to get in the habit of calling police if they see something shady, and will explain how to report burnt-out streetlights, which are often a detriment to residents walking home alone at night.

Juarez Nilsson says they’re hoping to roll the spike of interest into something long-term that could make big changes in the community.

“We really want to make sure the stereotype of [being a dangerous area] doesn’t stick,” she says. “This is how great neighbourhoods are built.”

Stay In The Know with Now Toronto

Be the first to know about new and exclusive content