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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Family of slain homeless man in alleged ‘swarming’ attack speaks out against youth justice laws

The family of the man allegedly killed by a group of teen girls in a “swarming” attack downtown is questioning the youth justice system and the current secrecy in the case in a new public statement.

“He was a man with pride who had fallen and wanted to learn to stand up on his own knowing that he always had his family behind him,” wrote Eric Shum of his brother-in-law Ken Lee, 59, who was killed last month. Eight teen girls aged 13 to 16 have been charged with second-degree murder after it is alleged they assaulted and stabbed him. Police believe the girls may have been trying to steal alcohol from Lee’s companion.

The statement said Lee “was a kind soul with a heart of gold” and that he was not experiencing homelessness because of any substance abuse issues. They asked for privacy as they continue to grieve.

It went on to challenge the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) that governs criminal cases involving youth, arguing “it protects the criminal youths and not the victims or the public.”

Shum challenged why the identities of accused persons charged with “serious” crimes are kept secret from the public when police are actively seeking more victims and witnesses and why the girls are eligible for bail.

The Star earlier reported that police suspect the same teens were involved in a string of random attacks along the TTC’s Line 1 and that investigators are asking anyone with information to come forward. The girls have not been charged in any of those incidents.

One girl has already received bail. Additional hearings for the girls still in custody are scheduled this month, including one on Friday morning.

The statement came the same day a judge ruled on a media application to gain access to records in the girls’ case.

Justice Sheilagh O’Connell ruled Thursday that the media could have access to some records but not others — records that are otherwise protected from public view under the YCJA. Though O’Connell agreed the media had a valid interest in the records, she said there was a “risk” of “inadvertent or accidental” publishing of details that would identify the girls. The records made available will have all identifying details censored. Other documents, such as exhibits presented in a bail hearing for one of the girls, will not be accessible.

The judge’s decision highlighted a Supreme Court of Canada case where the justices wrote that “because of their age, young people have heightened vulnerability, less maturity and a reduced capacity for moral judgment” which “entitles them to a presumption of diminished moral blameworthiness or culpability.” That is consistent, O’Connell wrote, with the YCJA principle to “limit the stigmatization” of young people under criminal suspicion.

Under the charter, young persons charged with an offence also have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and the right to seek bail from custody.

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