Sept. 11 will be forever remembered by millions as a tragic day
for the terrorist attacks that killed thousands in New York City.
For a select few in Ontario, however, this date will be remembered
for a different tragedy. Thursday Sept. 11, 2003 marks the 30th
anniversary of the only murder ever to occur at Erindale.
On Sept. 11, 1973, 19-year-old Constance Anne Dickey was the victim
of a horrific crime in a secluded area of Erindale college. Dickey
was a first year student from Prescott, Ontario who had not yet
attended any classes and was visiting UTM to familiarize herself
with the campus. Dickey was staying with her sister and brother-in-law
in Toronto, and when she did not return that day, her brother-in-law
reported her missing to Toronto police. Dickey's body was found
five days later by Mississauga police in a heavily wooded area close
to what is now parking lot four. She had been sexually assaulted,
beaten, and strangled to death.
Nearly a year passed before anyone was charged with the crime.
In that time, the city of Mississauga bore witness to two other
crimes nearly identical to the one that Dickey was victim to. Neda
Novak, an 18-year-old OAC student from Erindale High School, disappeared
a month after Dickey was murdered. She was believed to have been
hitch-hiking at the time of her disappearance. Novak's body was
found six months later on May 8, 1974 in another secluded area near
the Credit River in Streetsville. Even though she had been the victim
of an attack nearly identical to Dickey, Peel Regional Police claimed
that the two murders were not connected.
On Aug. 19, 1974, Julie Sheldon, a 16 year-old visitor from Hampshire,
England, accepted a ride from a man while walking north on Clarkson
Road. The man drove Sheldon to a remote field near Winston Churchill
Blvd. and Dundas St. where he sexually assaulted and stabbed her.
A miraculous coincidence probably saved Sheldon from sharing the
same fate as Dickey and Novak. A police cruiser responding to a
nearby car accident scared off Sheldon's attacker when he heard
the siren. Sheldon was then able to stager to the road and get police
help. Sheldon's description of her attacker and his car gave police
the information they needed to apprehend him.
In the early morning hours of Aug. 20, 1974, then 24-year-old Henry
Robert Williams was arrested by Peel Regional Police in his Streetsville
home. He was charged with the murders of Constance Dickey and Neda
Novak, as well as the attempted murder of Julie Sheldon. Williams
was later convicted of all three crimes and sentenced to three consecutive
life sentences. After his conviction, Williams raised much controversy
regarding the treatment of dangerous offenders after he voluntarily
requested to be castrated. His request was not granted on the grounds
that there was insufficient scientific evidence that the procedure
would have beneficial effects.
While a few staff members have worked at Erindale long enough to
remember the events following the discovery of Dickey's body, the
vast majority of the campus community has never heard of the event.
While forgetting a crime that occurred thirty years ago doesn't
seem unusual, at least one Mississauga resident is upset that UTM
does not remember Constance Anne Dickey. Sidney Knowles, an Erindale
alumnus, graduated in 1983 and has lived in Mississauga all his
life. In a letter to The Medium Knowles writes, "There is no
plaque or memorial at the Erindale Campus in memory of Constance
Anne Dickey. Perhaps the university can only deal with the problem
of violence against women as an abstract theoretical concept. Or
perhaps the university would rather forget about the brutal murder
of a young female student that occurred on the Erindale campus.
The problem is if we forget about Constance Anne Dickey we're also
forgetting that behind the statistics that record the murders of
women there is always the pain and suffering of an individual woman
- a real human being has been killed."
Knowles wrote a similar letter expressing his concern to UTM principal
Ian Orchard. Orchard responded to Knowles with a letter of his own
acknowledging the tragedy and Knowles' concern. Orchard stated that
it would not be "appropriate" to establish a memorial
"at this late a date." Knowles was not impressed by Orchard's
"I find the actions of the university puzzling. Constance Dickey
was an Erindale student who was murdered because she was a woman
who happened to be on the Erindale campus at the same time as a
serial killer. For five days, Constance Dickey's body lay on the
Erindale campus. The unfortunate death of Constance Dickey is part
of the history of UTM whether the university wishes to admit to
it or not. By trying to ignore the past, the university - or at
least Orchard - comes across as not caring either about Constance
Dickey as a person or the larger problem of violence against women."
Orchard responded to Knowles' accusations by stating, "The
university takes violence against women as a very serious societal
problem, and does not try to ignore the past. Each year, we hold
a memorial on the day of the Montreal massacre, reflecting our hope
that violence against all women will stop. I, along with others,
spoke at the event last year, at our flagpole, where candles were
laid, and I also participated in a reflective meeting in the student
centre where words, poems and music were used in our reflections.
Many members of the UTM community participated, indicating the importance
we all place on the problem of violence against women."
When asked whether he thinks a memorial in Dickey's name is in
order, Orchard responded, "Memorials or remembrances of tragic
events such as these would normally be initiated by or in consultation
with family members. Families respond differently to tragedies and
one must respect their privacy or wishes."
Dickey's parents declined to speak with Medium staff.
Knowles offered several suggestions of actions that UTM could take
to honour Dickey's memory. "The university can buy a plaque
and dedicate a tree, or a flower garden, or a common room. Hopefully,
there will be individuals and groups at Erindale who - unlike the
university - recognize the significance and importance of the life
of Constance Dickey and all other victims of violence."
Students at Erindale agree that a memorial is in order but also
acknowledge the need to respect family wishes. "I think it's
very nice of Knowles to come forward as a stranger and express concern
and acknowledge something like this. I think it would be a good
idea to create some kind of memorial for Dickey. Of course, we don't
know the situation with the family. Maybe they're not over it, maybe
they want to put it in the past; but at the same time a memorial
would serve as a kind of recognition towards their child. I would
love to know why the principal doesn't want to establish a memorial.
Has he contacted the family?" Marta Klopotowska, a first year
crime and deviance student said.
"I think Orchard just wants to put it in the past. He probably
doesn't want to bring it up since a lot of people haven't heard
of it" Izabela Zandberg, a first-year French student said,
"There are a lot of other things around campus that are acknowledged
way more and don't have as much significance as this. The residences
are named after people who used to work hear, there are banners
hanging everywhere with famous people who attended U of T on them."
Orchard reminded the campus community that he was not present thirty
years ago and must assume that no memorial was established because
of the family's wishes. He went on to say that establishing a memorial
at this point in time might resurrect the pain and suffering of
a tragedy that Dickey's family hopes to leave in the past.
Third year economics student Collin D'souza feels that not taking
action today is irresponsible of the university,
"It's never too late to do something like this (establish
a memorial). The university should speak to the family and ask them
their views and how they'd like it to be handled. Knowing that a
lot of people do care, I'm sure the family would be for something
like this. It should give them some satisfaction to know that their
daughter is being remembered." Sid Peddinti, a second year
economics student agrees.
"This did happen in the past, but you learn from the past.
It's important that people are aware that this happened."
With files from the Toronto Star and the Mississauga News