Extremism in Our Community

TORONTO, ON — A week earlier, the mayor counselled the families of the victims, and two days earlier, she prayed with survivors as they returned to the crime scene for a vigil. Now it was Monday, back at City Hall, and Mayor Badger took to the podium.

“We know that this was an attack on all of us here,” she said.

Where she stood was a mere 15-minute drive from the park where Edwin Godwinsen attacked a dozen homeless men, sending the country into shock. Mayor Badger assured journalists she was sparing no effort in finding answers. But to the question on everyone’s mind — “Why?” — she conceded that she couldn’t make premature promises and had to let the investigation unfold. How could this teen from Rosedale, Toronto, the son of a Justice of the Peace (Eddy Sr.) and a homemaker (Betty née Schroomberg), a boy nicknamed “dove” by his mother, a boy who grew up playing softball and attending Scouts and Church retreats, perform such an act? And yet despite the facade of normative suburban behaviour, he was, as emerging details show, a ticking time-bomb.

On the morning of November 19, 2009, the sun rose inauspiciously over Chorley Park — its early risers, its birds, its homeless. As the latter, many of whom used the park as a jumping-off point to the nearest Men’s Mission, stirred on benches under shade of beech trees, Edwin Godwinsen was laying the groundwork for a revenge on society that has baffled police and criminologists.

According to a timeline provided by city officials, Godwinsen entered Krishna’s Miscellany, a convenience store near the corner of Danforth and Broadview, at 9 a.m. and brought to the register wads of trick-or-treat bags and Oh Henry!’s. “He had a perverse expression on his face, very large and lecherous,” said a store manager Monday. Asked why he did not notify the authorities about this behaviour, Mr. Krishna said, “Hindsight is 20/20. I’ll live with this till the end of my days. How can you know you would have done better in my situation?”

Newly released CCTV footage shows Godwinsen subsequently entering the nearby Royal Bank of Canada. “He requested his life savings in $100 bills,” said teller Ms. Birch. “He looked at peace. I knew him — I’d seen him before — and he looked very off that morning. I could hardly stop myself from staring as he left, sat on the curb, and began stuffing these… Halloween bags… with candy and topping them with wads of cash. They were overflowing. Then,” she paused, “he began, his — his march to the park.”

What happened next is the subject of countless editorials and firestorms in the Twitterverse. Is Edwin Godwinsen’s act the product of a sick mind? Or is it the headwind of our collective failing of at-risk, mentally ill teenagers?

At 10:04 a.m., Godwinsen passed into Chorley Park and fell indiscriminately upon its homeless inhabitants. The witness John Doe #3 describes him gallivanting over to a homeless man and passing him a treat bag, whereupon the incredulous man cursed the sky and whipped up a mob to descend on Godwinsen, who handed out his lewd sacks and was thanked for the very treachery he served up. Godwinsen swarmed through the park, tapping homeless men on benches and rousing them from their slumber, giving them false hope and, according to the beliefs of some, poisoned bags. John Doe #5 recalls how Godwinsen headbutted one of the men and was restrained from further violence. One of the homeless victims, Jeremiah Bush, strongly disputes this account, though he has since been pronounced mentally insane by physicians at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Godwinsen’s redistributionist maneuver caught the eye of members of Neighbourhood Watch, who summoned an impromptu meeting in a Douglas Drive living room. They called the police and voted, after invoking a United Empire Loyalist ritual, to arm themselves and carry out a patrol.

But Godwinsen’s treat bags, a reckless enough imposition, weren’t the extent of the outrage. As the RCMP arrived to intercept the packages and neutralize the recipients — as schoolchildren, grandparents and U.E.L. militiamen hurled missiles and curse words at the dissident — Godwinsen’s plot at Chorley Park was incomplete.

Witness reports state how a shivering homeless gentleman stretched his chapped hands from his box fort and was accosted by Godwinsen, who proceeded to strip to his boxer-briefs and forcibly pass the man his clothes. It is to the credit of law enforcement that they tasered the homeless gentleman and confiscated the compromised garments.

At 10:08 a.m., Godwinsen fled Chorley Park, beginning a high-speed chase by a horse-backed RCMP officer that resulted in two non-critical injuries to passersby. Within minutes, Godwinsen burst through the doors of Our Lady of Sorrows Soup Kitchen, brandishing his arms in a manic, chicken-like frenzy (speculated by popular Sunday columnist Beth Suesfeld to be symptomatic of lithium withdrawal), shouting absurdities like, “I bring morning showers for the thirsty flowers” or, possibly, “I wield all media power at this hour.” In his maneuver to disturb the peace, Godwinsen barricaded himself in the kitchen and began to angrily stir the cauldron of cream of mushroom soup. The kitchen staff colluded with Godwinsen to fill the soup cups of the homeless in what has been described as an unprecedented betrayal of civic duty. The kitchen staff’s attorney, however, maintains that their participation was coerced.

Details of the raid are partially sealed by court order, but Sergeant Butt has more than titillated the public’s appetite for knowledge. “I’m happy with my boys,” said Sergeant Butts at Monday’s City Hall press conference. “We had Eddy trapped at Our Lady’s and just had to smoke him outta his hole. We sealed off the premises and I told all my men to put into practice our drills, ya know, counter-terrorism. I lifted my firearm and we boys begun the raid and infiltrated the kitchen and I says to Eddy Godwinsen, ‘You are the anti-Christ.’”

According to a dishwasher named Mario Lopez, all the shots missed their mark, but Sergeant Butts has since been awarded the Order of Merit.

Cornered by the RCMP, Godwinsen threw his hands up with body language that one communication consultant speaking to CBC News identified as expressing remorse. Sergeant Butts told reporters that after Butts and his officers had surrounded Godwinsen, they commenced the next phase of the extraction whereby they expanded their batons, clubbed him down, and captured him in an industrial-strength net. According to Butts, Godwinsen whispered many sugared falsehoods and evil remonstrances as they transported him by armored vehicle to Toronto East Detention Centre, where he is now held in custody.

As the country watches, entranced, with a horror unseen since a wave of mass shootings in the 1980s, it is becoming harder to untangle the myth of Edwin Godwinsen from the reality. According to the Toronto Star, the teen’s path to extremism dates to his early years, when he showed signs of alienation. Mr. Black, chief psychiatrist at Toronto East Detention Centre, has written in the Journal for the Study of Non-repeating Offenders that Godwinsen’s childhood fits the classic paradigm for 21st-century adult criminality. While his profile shows a highly predictive marker of high-risk youths — a predilection towards video games — it also shows more insidious signs. “As a child, during Cowboys and Indians, he insisted, curiously, on playing the chieftain with the peace pipe,” wrote Dr. Black. His parents were relieved when his deviant behaviour was ameliorated by a Paxil regimen, and after a short stint at a Unitarian minister’s home, during which an unspecified form of “re-education” or “awakening” took place, he was considered fit to re-enter the seventh grade. Unfortunately, no one recognized the darkness that lurked in young Edwin’s breast — a darkness amply manifest in Edwin’s diaries under analysis by forensic experts.

As Godwinsen awaits sentencing at the High Court, guards at Toronto East are reportedly experiencing high turnover. Speaking under anonymity, a night watchman told the Sun, “To live in the midst of — no — to give shelter to a dangerous criminal like Godwinsen requires a hardened, coal-like conscience.” Nonetheless, Dr. Black, the facility’s chief psychiatrist, claims that signs of progress are visible in Godwinsen. Though he takes food without argument, he refuses to take clothes; however, he did “slap-attack,” to use Dr. Black’s phrase, a guard who attempted to force-dress him. “Let me be absolutely unequivocal,” Dr. Black told reporters at City Hall on Monday, “Godwinsen is beyond any question of rehabilitation. He is a classic example of what happens when parents feed their kids an excess of starchy foods, leading to irregular saccades. But with a high-protein diet designed by our nutritionist, Godwinsen is pumping out more stimulating neurotransmitters and this recent bout of aggression with the slap is a light at the end of the tunnel. But for my part, off the record — or, not off the record but as a human — I can’t say with liberty of conscience that I wish to see him reintroduced in society. And I think it’s safe to say that the public would strongly oppose such a move.”

If only it was a marginal sector of society uprooted by this tragedy, then grieving might progress in a clinical fashion. The reality is that the outrage continues to reverberate in unseen ways, with a despondent mood hanging over the city. A resurgence in reprisal attacks, which had surfaced and then leveled off in the days following November 19, has been reported against members of the Norwegian-Canadian community, including a recent arson attack on the Norwegian Club of Toronto’s annual shoe-making expo. The Norwegian community in Toronto is facing pressures to answer for Godwinsen, with Mayor Badger increasingly chided by opposition MPs for appeasement and cultural relativism. A Saturday event for the Norway–Canada Chamber of Commerce was attended by Norway’s Ambassador to Ottawa and drew strong appeals by the ambassador: “You can come to Norway,” she said. “No one should feel threatened, and we have to do our part to fight stereotypes and present a better image of our community. We don’t want people to think that, you know, we do those things to our homeless in Norway.”

As the city waits for answers, the wellbeing of those directly affected is being closely watched. Mr. Krishna, owner of Krishna’s Miscellany, did not answer the Star’s calls and is speculated by Maclean’s blogger to have entered a witness protection program. Our Lady of Sorrows staff, currently negotiating a plea bargain for charges of harbouring a terrorist, have taken out a half-page ad in The Globe and Mail in their efforts to win the court of public opinion. Betty Schroomberg, mother of the accused, has adopted her maiden name and disavowed her son’s actions while calling for the full weight of the law to fall on his head. She has reasserted control over Edwin’s trust fund and donated it to form, in collaboration with experts in the mental health field, the Celexa Institute for Nu-Happiness. Dr. Black has since delivered the first annual, not uncontroversially named Betty Schroomberg Lecture. In attendance were RBC teller Ms. Birch, fighting an undisclosed disorder, and Sergeant Butts, who told a panel that he was looking to cultivate positive psychology strategies for his men and women in uniform.

“Parks should be places of safety and sanctuary,” said Mayor Badger. “When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every Canadian community.” A tourist strolling the tranquil gardens and manor of Chorley Park would never guess it had been the scene of a tectonic shift in what Canadians talk about when they talk about mental health. A stone monument with a reflecting pool is under design by Sickmore, Owes and Willing, to be raised at the site where Godwinsen shed his clothes so that future generations remember the lessons of the 19th of November. Bay Street financial leaders, along with funds confiscated from Chorley Park, will subsidize the Betty Schroomberg Lecture so that it makes the rounds of the Toronto District School Board. City Council promises that this initiative will have its line on future budgets. Finally, Mayor Badger has banned media coverage of a copycat attack in an undisclosed Scarborough park because, she says, “We must deny the terrorists the oxygen of publicity.”