January 1999, Vol. 72, No. 1

Kim Pittaway

Jane Doe: Chatelaine's Woman of the Year

Who is JANE DOE?

Jane Doe fought 11 years to prove that police had used her as rape bait. That's the public story. What you haven't heard is the personal story. In an exclusive interview with writer Kim Pittaway, chatelaine's Woman of the Year reveals her strengths, her contradictions and, ultimately, herself.

"You won." It was just after 9 a. m. on July 3, 1998, and Toronto lawyer Sean Dewart was on the phone to the woman who was, paradoxically, both his most known and least visible client: Jane Doe. Of course, that's not her real name but it is the name by which she is known in legal circles and to the public at large — as in Jane Doe, who sued the police for failing to warn women in downtown Toronto that a serial rapist was targeting women like her during the summer of 1986. As in Jane Doe, who first won the right to sue the police and then won her case, got apologies from the force, the city and the police commission — and damages of more than $200,000.

She hadn't thought she would win and, even eight weeks later, as we sit across from one another in a downtown bar and grill, the reality of winning still hasn't really sunk in. She wonders, she says, how it would have been different if she'd lost. Everything up to the moment of the decision would have been exactly the same. Every moment of her fight would still have been worth it, she says. And I sense that she's as uncomfortable with the role of winner as she is with every other role that has been thrust upon her. Don't expect her to play rape victim or even rape survivor. Don't ask her to be the good client or the compliant interviewee. She won't even really play Jane Doe, the anonymous one, because her real identity is widely known in both media and social-activist circles — though some members of her immediate family still don't know that she was raped, that their daughter, their sister is Jane Doe.

The one role she will play, with both pride and flourish, is that of a difficult woman. "I hope I am difficult," she says, after first rejecting the word. Difficult, determined, stubborn, vocal, frustrating. those are the words used to describe her by people who like her. Yup, difficult fits.

It's easy to look at her case and think that it's about punishing the police for not issuing a warning. But it's not the failure to warn that is new here — the police have been held responsible in the past for failures as neglecting to signpost road hazards. No, the key to Doe's 11-year battle — what makes it a landmark win, and Doe a natural choice for Chatelaine's Woman of the Year — is that this was a Charter challenge that focused on why the police failed to warn women. The why boils down to simple sexism. If Jane Doe had been John Doe, she'd have known about the masked attacker scaling buildings and entering apartments through unlocked balcony doors. And on that hot summer night, August 24, 1986, she would not have been raped.

Jane Doe's nightmare began when she woke up. It was past midnight, and someone had shaken her awake from a sound sleep in the apartment where she live alone. She awoke to find a masked man on top of her, holding a knife to her throat. He pulled a mask over her head so she couldn't see. Then he spent the next several hours raping her. "I was so frightened, I thought my heart would explode," she says now. "I became very quiet, and he kept telling me that as long as I did what he said, he wouldn't hurt me. All I was interested in was surviving." And so she did as she was told, all the while concentrating every bit of her mind on remembering the sound of his voice, the way he smelled — anything that might help her identify him later.

When he was finished, he told her to stay where she was for 10 minutes, but as soon as she sensed he was gone, she took off the mask and called the police. In minutes, she says, her apartment was filled with constables and plainclothes detectives. She was asked again and again by different officers what had happened. They wanted her to sit down while she was being questioned; she wanted to stand up. They wanted to put her on a stretcher for the trip to the hospital; she wanted to walk to the ambulance herself.

That was my first standoff with the police," says Doe. "The process takes away your control. You're a victim; you're a witness; your body is the evidence. And you are expected to fit those roles."

What 34-year-old Doe didn't know until days later was that the police had been expecting the rapist. Since December of 1985, he had raped four women that they knew of and his patters was well established: he targeted dark-haired white women living alone in balconied, low-rise apartment buildings in the geographically small but densely populated Church and Wellesley neighbourhood in downtown Toronto. When she asked one of the investigators why they hadn't issued a warning, she and a friend who was with her say they were told that "women might get hysterical" and that the rapist would be scared off and so be more difficult to find. (The officer later denied using the word hysterical.) "The word that came to my mind immediately was that I'd been used as bait.

They weren't trying to prevent the next rape. They were using me and all of the other women in my neighbourhood as bait in the hope of catching him in the act," says Doe now. When she said that she'd warn women if the police didn't, she was told she could be arrested for interfering with the investigation.

What she also didn't know was that police hadn't believed two of the earlier victims. In the first reported case, though the woman maintained that she'd been raped by a stranger, police suspected her boyfriend. In the second, because the victim related what had happened to her in a "calm and relaxed" manner, the officers suggested "this occurrence may be cleared with a public mischief charge" — a charge against the woman for making a false report. It wasn't until a third woman reported being raped — about six months after the first report — that police connected the cases.

That's what Jane Doe didn't know. What the police didn't know was that she was not about to play by their rules.

"By the time that Jane Doe told me she'd been raped, she knew that she was going to forget about being a victim. She was not even going to be a survivor — she was going to accomplish something out of this," says Doe's sister. Call her Karen, since identifying her might identify Doe. Doe called her sister at work about a week after the rape and slowly told her story, beginning first by describing the other rapes and then telling Karen that it had happened to her too. "I think she was more concerned about any pain I was going to feel than she was feeling," says Karen. "She told me that a grave injustice had been done and that she was going to take this opportunity to make some changes." What she didn't share with her sister, at least not right away, was the impact the rape was having on her, sleep had become almost impossible, she was afraid to go out after dark (though her apartment felt unsafe too, and she would soon move out) and she was slipping into depression.

"…it was like she had two lives: her life as herself and her live as Jane Doe."

While the news of her sister's rape stunned Karen, Doe's decision to use it as a catalyst for change didn't. The girls and their brothers had been raised strict Catholics in the 1950s and 1960s, in a family that was almost as involved with trade unions as the church. Doe recalls growing up with a strong sense of right and wrong. She left the church in her late teens but she carried with her that moral sense as she became involved in socialist feminist groups during the late 1960s and 1970s. she studied social work, traveled to Europe, spent time working on an Israeli kibbutz. When she returned to Canada, she moved to downtown Toronto and worked in film and media. She volunteered as a rape crisis counselor, as well as in many political causes. "To my family, I was the exotic one, the kind of flighty but interesting one," she says now. She liked parties, live music and smart conversation. People who knew her then describe her as vivacious and bright, a free spirit with a committed political bent. She was the kind of person who would say "grave injustice" and mean it.

And so Doe ignored the detective's warning to stay out of the investigation's way and gathered a group of women to form WAVAW: Women Against Violence Against Women. It was both a political and a personal act: taking action, Doe says now, helped her survive. they plastered the neighbourhood with warnings, delivering them door to door — delivering one, in fact, to the door of the man who just a few weeks later would be charged with the rapes.

The charges didn't come about as a result of the posters or even as a result of dogged police work. On September 24, a woman was being interviewed by her husband's probation officer regarding assault charges she had filed against him in late spring. She told the officer that her husband, Paul Douglas Callow, had been convicted of breaking into the home of a woman in Vancouver and raping her and that he was "still doing break and enters" in Toronto. The police placed him under surveillance and arrested him on October 3. Doe made successful voice identification of Callow. He confessed to five rapes and was ultimately sentenced to 20 years in jail.

For many, perhaps most women, that would have been the end of the story. But Doe didn't stop here. As she had told her sister Karen, she wanted to accomplish something out of this. Her contact with the police and the justice system had revealed real problems with how rapes were investigated and how women were treated during those investigations. as was the case with two of the early Balcony victims, police often didn't believe women who said they'd been raped. Investigators were sometimes mind-boggling offensive: one of the women raped by Callow was phoned by a detective and when she apologized for taking so long to answer the phone — she'd been in the shower, she said — the detective replied that he wished he were there to see her.

Convinced that these problems were grounded in sexism, Doe and WAVAW initiated a series of meetings with the force in 1986 and 1987. WAVAW wanted the police to address issues of police training, police protocol and how they relate to women who filed rape complaints. "They were unable and unwilling to deal with the issues we were bringing to the table," says Doe, and so meetings broke off after a year. If she couldn't get the police to change by working with them, she'd force change bringing them to court.

The Toronto force already knew that when it came to handling rape cases, change was overdue. As early as 1975, the way rapes were investigated was seen as a problem within the force. By the mid-1980s, the police created the position of sexual-assault coordinator to monitor sex crimes, liaise with other agencies, train officers and generally assist officers investigating rapes. But even the new coordinator felt the force still had a long way to go. In a 1986 report to her superiors, Det. Sgt. Margo Boyd catalogued a depressing number of incidents in which officers refused even to take a victim's complaint or dismissed the complaint because the victim didn't appear upset or, alternatively, suspected the victim of putting on an act because she appeared too upset. "The bottom line ," wrote Insp. Jean Boyd in a note to then-chief of police Jack Marks in 1987, "is that we are going to get roasted very soon if we don't get our act together." As far as Jane Doe was concerned, it was already far too late.

"Lawsuits consume people's lives," says lawyer Sean Dewart. And for much of the next 11 years, Jane Doe's life was consumed. "This has been her work, her family, her nightlife," says her sister Karen. Meanwhile, she held down a job and kept the rape a secret from her parents. (It would hurt them too much and they would never be able to look at her without believing she was damaged, she says now.) And while she didn't go out much, she did maintain her friendships. "But it was like she had two lives: her life as herself and her life as Jane Doe," says Karen.

At the heart of Doe's case was the argument that not only did the police have a duty to warn women that a serial rapist was on the loose, but that their failure to warn was based on sexist beliefs and so violated Doe's rights under the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Women's Legal, Education and Action Fund (LEAF) had agreed to help Doe pursue her case, with Charter expert and lawyer Mary Cornish heading up the effort as legal counsel. But Doe, a self-described control freak, wasn't about to take on the role of a good client. She was demanding and, well, difficult. Doe insisted on being involved at every step, and that often meant long meetings discussing everything from the wording of press releases to the philosophical underpinnings of the case.

The first challenge the legal team faced was to establish Doe's right to sue the police, a battle that took four years. Cornish eventually won, setting the stage for the real issues: had Doe's gender equality rights, guaranteed under the relatively new Charter, been infringed upon by the police? Had she been denied equal protection under the law simply because she was a woman?

For reasons that Doe won't elaborate on, eight years into the lawsuit, she broke off her connection with LEAF and started looking for new lawyers. The case had finally reached the discovery stage — the you-show-me-yours, I-show-you-mine process of letting the opposition examine your evidence and witnesses before going to trial — and Doe needed someone experienced in fighting a potentially nasty courtroom battle. She found Sean Dewart, a lawyer who, as he puts it, "grinds out lawsuits," his associate Eric Golden, and Cynthia Petersen, who specializes in Charter cases. For Dewart, Golden and Petersen, who took on the work pro bono, the case had the appeal of being potentially groundbreaking. And most lawyers considered it to be unwinnable.

Again though, Doe wasn't about to sit quietly by and let the lawyers make all the decisions. "Jane has a strong personality. She has a keen sense of right and wrong. She is very determined," says Dewart. "And that can create conflict when you are dealing one on one. She pushed Dewart and Petersen to make their arguments in plain strong language, not to soft-pedal the points in legalese. She wanted them to say, for instance, that male violence is a huge problem and that rape is about power and not sex; to say that the police based their investigation on biases about women — rape myths — including that women lie about and exaggerate rape.

You can't say that to a judge, the lawyers argued. Why not? Doe would shoot back. It's the truth. "She didn't like being told no for no reason," says Petersen. "She made us do things and say things that we might not have had the courage to do. And she was right." Dewart was worried about appearing strident and dogmatic. But Doe wouldn't back down. "I'm sure there were times when my lawyers hated me," says Doe. For her though, at least part of the point of the case was to show how women's rights were violated and do so in a language that anyone could understand.

It wasn't an easy trial. The police force's legal team focused their efforts in two areas: first in proving that the investigation — an admittedly difficult one — had been handled as competently as possible; and second, in an effort to discredit her and limit any damages that might be seen to arise from Doe's rape, by suggesting that she was already damaged before the rape occurred. Ironically, the police — who try to encourage women to report and prosecute rapes — were about to rely on the tactics that defence lawyers use to drive women out of the courtroom. They were going to lay Doe's past sexual and psychiatric history before the court and contend that the insomnia, anxiety, depression and fear she'd suffered after she'd been raped were preexisting conditions that arose out of experience she'd had before the rape.

Two days of court-ordered personality tests by a psychiatrist and psychologist left her exhausted and frustrated. Dr. Graham Glancy, the defence-paid expert from Toronto's Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, characterized her as "overly dramatic with a strong need to be the centre of attention." Based on his testing and an examination of her medical and therapy records, he said Doe showed a tendency to "manipulate people to garner approval and affection and [has] strong needs for social acceptance."

"It was the only point at which I considered dropping the case," says Doe. Instead, she insisted her legal team call their own experts to counter the defence testimony.

After nine weeks in court, the trial was over. "I was certain that we'd made our case," says Dewart. But as six months ticked by and they waited for the judge's decision, his confidence eroded. By the night before the decision, Dewart was sure they would lose — badly. Doe says she'd never really expected to win. She'd just hoped to get the issues on the record.

And then the decision was released. Judge Jean MacFarlanf echoed the plain language Doe had pushed her lawyers to use. "The women were being used without their knowledge or consent as 'bait' to attract a predator," she wrote in her decision.

"In my view, the police failed utterly in their duty to protect these women and the plaintiff in particular," she continued. That failure, she said, "was motivated and informed by the adherence to rape myths as well as sexist stereotyical reasoning about rape, about women and about women who are raped. The plaintiff therefore has been discriminated against by reason of her gender and as the result the plaintiff's rights to equal benefit of the law were compromised." And, in an unusual move, she awarded damages related to that Charter violation, a total of more than $220,000.

They'd won. Big. Then they watched as the force's lawyer argued that the case should be appealed, until Metro politicians ordered them to drop it. Apologies from the city, the police commission and current Chief David Boothby followed, including a meeting at Toronto's council chambers where Doe shook hands with and thanked the chief for his remarks. Observed one friend, a woman who had been raped herself at around the same time as Doe, "After all they put her through, I wouldn't have had the strength to be that polite."

Later, at a celebration party Doe had planned before the decision came down ("I had a victory to celebrate no matter which way the judge ruled"), Doe handed out matchbooks to her guests. "Jane Doe: A Match for the Cops" they read. Some thought it in poor taste — a graceful winner shouldn't joke about such a serious matter. Doe, not surprisingly, wasn't all that worried about the criticism.

This is Jane Doe. She is articulate and forceful — but then her voice drops to a childlike whisper and she seems almost clinically fragile. She looks middle-class — but peppers her speech with swear words just to let you know her roots are anything but. She hates being called a rape victim or being viewed as damaged — but her case depended at least in part on proving that she has been irreparably damaged. She argues for the use of plain language — but then buries her listener in the rhetoric and buzz words of left-wing political analysis. She protects her anonymity but makes public speaking appearances. She is, in a word, complicated.

The Jane Doe I met, first over lunch and then in interviews in her small downtown apartment, with its simple furniture and brightly coloured glass and pottery, challenged and sometimes irritated me. She often lapsed into phrases that had the ring of rehearsal to them, though after dozens of interviews and speaking engagements, perhaps the odd scripted sound isn't surprising. She asked to see the story before publication (I said no) and , I think, prompted her friends to request written interview questions in advance (I suspect so that she could see them). She knew the rules of the interviewing game and then tried to change them. "Not that I would refuse to cooperate," she'd preface her request. And she meant it. She wasn't going to refuse. She just wanted to remind me that she could.

The Jane Doe I met was also darkly funny. When lawyer Dewart called her to tell her they'd won, she had a television news reporter on the other line and joked about leaking the judgement hours before it was made public. ("My heart almost stopped," Dewart recalls.) She joked about going into court topless since the police lawyers seemed bent on stripping her naked. She made cracks about the way the police conducted their investigation ("They were expecting Callow to rape again. But he was a day early, so they didn't see him climbing the side of a well-lit downtown apartment building").

One friend, the one who was with her during her initial interviews with the police, believes that while her rape and civil court fight could have destroyed her, instead they "galvanized her into becoming more herself." Dewart, who admits that if Doe had been his sister he would have counseled her to drop the case long before it got to court, says she's incredibly brave.

It's that bravery that her sister Karen most admires. "My kids have learned from Jane that when you see something that looks wrong, you check it out, you ask questions, you make some noise."

Doe isn't sure what she'll do now that the case is over. She lectures to university classes, women's groups, lawyers and others who invite her. She's writing a book. And she'll most certainly remain politically active. After all she's been through, she's not about to stop making noise now.

"Balcony Rapist" case... [Fiona Stewart]

Created: October 7, 2000
Last modified: October 7, 2000
J.D. Jane Doe, c/o Walnet Institute
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