Sunday, October 1, 1995

Jim Rankin

Sex case woman mourned as project opens

PAYING TRIBUTE: Fiona Stewart of Voce project hugs carol Gardner, Mother of Robin Voce, as father Allan looks on yesterday.

PAYING TRIBUTE: Fiona Stewart of Voce project hugs Carol Gardner, Mother of Robin Voce, as father Allan looks on yesterday.
Jim Rankin/Toronto Star

Tears came yesterday to Allan Gardner's eyes as he stared at the picture of his daughter in the lobby of the housing project named after her. She was his girl, a heroine to many women — and gone forever.

It was a bittersweet day for the Gardner family — one of closure, and painful memories — as they gathered with the people who chose to name their Scarborough non-profit building after Robin Gardner Voce to officially open the doors.

Voce was 19 in 1984 when two Metro police officers pulled her car over. She had been drinking. They took her to an underground parking lot and took turns having sex with her in the front seat of the cruiser.

She and her family fought for six years to have the two brought to justice. She didn't live to see it done.

Voce took her own life in May, 1989 -- two month before Rodney Pugh and Gordon Trumbley were fired after a tribunal found them guilty of discreditable conduct.

Yesterday, standing in the foyer of the 115-unit Markham Rd, project -- which devotes 35 per cent of its units for women who have endured abuse or assault -- Allan Gardner said his daughter would have been proud.

"Today, I believe Robin did reach her goal," he said in a brief speech to more than 100 residents and special guests. "And today, I believe Robin has made a difference."

With his wife Carol at his side, Gardner said police boards should work to ensure would-be officers are properly screened and educated before taking to the streets.

"I would not like anybody to think that the entire (Metro) police force has a problem," he said. "But if there's a bad apple, there must be a way to get rid of it."

Anna Willats of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre told the gathering police across the province suffer from poor training and hiring practices, and that the abuse Voce endured has not gone away.

Police are still not held accountable, said Willats. Willats said she is afraid of Premiere Mike Harris' government and its recent slashes to welfare, affordable housing projects and transportation for the disabled.

The cuts seem to take aim at the vulnerable, she said. "I say to Mr. Harris, and I hope you do , too: "You coward."

It was also an emotional day for those behind the Voce housing project. There were times, said its founding director Fiona Stewart, when it didn't seem it was going to become a reality.

"I never dreamed this day would come," she said. "It was Robin's spirit that kept us going through rough times and frustrations."

Voce was victimized by a system that would not support her, said Stewart.

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