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June 14, 2007 - Toronto Star (CN ON)

[Police] Raids Terrify Children

By Linda Diebel, Staff reporter

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Here's a different perspective on yesterday's police raids.

It comes from Andrene, who is 10 years old and experienced the first minutes at the end of police guns after officers burst into her bedroom just before dawn.

She was there with her mother, Sharon Mitchell, 32, and baby sister, Alexandra, 2. Down the hall in another bedroom were her cousin, Joanna, 9, and Joanna's mother, Charmaine Osbourne, 30.

"This morning, the police officers, they came and they were kicking down the doors," said Andrene in a solemn voice. "And they came in with their guns and they were pointing at my sister and me.

"My sister got scared and she was crying."

Everything happened at once. A loud explosion, noise, chaos, smoke, doors battered down and police guns with red lights glowing in the dark.

One of the older girls was so terrified, she wet herself.

At some point during the raid on the townhouse on Driftwood Ave., in a city housing complex near Jane St. and Finch Ave. W., police arrested the girls' uncle, Fitzroy Osbourne, 28. He is brother to both Sharon and Charmaine.

By last night, it wasn't clear if he had been charged and police said no announcements would be made until today.

Andrene doesn't know about any of that. All she knows is that she was scared. "(The) guns they pointed at the kids aren't good," she said. "I don't think they'd better (do that) anymore."

When asked why not, she replied softly: "Because other kids get scared."

Andrene told her story yesterday afternoon, sitting with Alexandra in their townhouse. It still reeked of tear gas -- or whatever police used in the raid -- and was littered with debris. The bottom of the refrigerator was burned black, windows were broken and clothes, toys, children's drawings and other possessions were strewn everywhere.

The kitchen was unusable.

Alexandra was trying to coax Boss, a little white poodle-mix, to play. But the dog whined. The fur on its left side was burned to the skin.

Osbourne, who is looking after the dog, said the animal was burned during the police raid on another townhouse in the row. His owners were arrested and the home was boarded up.

She is angry that police had children at gunpoint. A supervisor for the Toronto school board, Osbourne said police should have known better than to do that, especially when she believes their surveillance would have shown children lived there.

Osbourne and her daughter, Joanna, hit the floor at the first blast, but police ordered them back up on the bed. "They had both of us on the bed with high-powered rifles pointed at us," said Osbourne, claiming they were held at gunpoint for about half an hour before being allowed to wait outside the house.

"My daughter was crying like there was no end to it. She was there crying and they had a gun on her.

"It was literally like she was having a seizure this morning. She was shaking. I had to grip this kid, I had to grip her real tight."

Later, it was impossible to calm Joanna down so Osbourne sent her to relatives.

Osbourne argued her brother is innocent, and that he worked to raise money after Jordon Manners, 15, was killed in a recent shooting at nearby C.W. Jefferys Collegiate. She said her brother doesn't belong to the Driftwood Crips.

Still, that's not her point.

"Look, whatever you think -- that there is a criminal inside, or not, a murderer or not -- you should think before you act because there are kids in the house," she said, adding police surveillance should have shown the presence of children.

"This is Metro housing," she said. "They look at us as black and in a poor neighbourhood and so obviously, you must be doing drugs."

Yesterday afternoon, city housing workers were putting the doors back on the house. But no tests appeared to have been done on the air the children were breathing.

Mitchell said that during the ordeal she asked police whether the thick smoke would hurt her kids. One officer who, like the others, wore a protective mask, apparently replied: "Oh no, it's not going to harm them."

Mitchell also complained about the window that was blown out in her sister's bedroom: "If there hadn't been a drape there, they would have been cut to pieces by the glass."

There were many opinions yesterday in the Driftwood Ave. slice of northern Toronto where the raids occurred. Some people were skeptical, a few applauded.

A group of Somali-Canadian women watching police take evidence from a house on Driftwood Court said they didn't think it would make any difference.

"I've been living here for 15 years and the police do something like this every year," said one woman. "But nothing ever changes. We don't feel safe living here. ... They didn't get everybody."

Phillip, 21 and a York University student, thought police made a start. He lives in one of the area's many public housing complexes and said his mother woke him up to say: "It's about time."

Ted Royle, Fitzroy Osbourne's lawyer, said he didn't know what charges, had been laid because he hadn't yet heard from his client. He said Osbourne has never been arrested for anything serious -- "no guns or drugs" -- but wouldn't elaborate on his police record.

But Royle said that "every time the police do this, there are 100 new recruits (for gangs). It just alienates young people. All they do is perpetuate the cycle of mistrust of authority that exists in the urban subculture."

Again, that's something Andrene wouldn't understand.

But no comment seemed more powerful than her one-word answer to the question, "Were you scared?"

"Yeah," she said, almost under her breath.

It was barely audible.

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