John Doe ‘an enigma’ in life and in death

Man with lengthy crim­i­nal record con­founded po­lice, psy­chi­a­trists


John Doe was the ghost who haunted On­tario’s le­gal sys­tem for 14 years.

No one knows any­thing about his life be­fore his first run-in with po­lice at an On­tario li­brary in 2003. No one knows his real name or birthday.

Most of all, no one knows what led him to set up camp be­side the Toronto rail cor­ri­dor where po­lice fa­tally shot him in June 2016 af­ter an at­tempted ar­rest went hor­ri­bly wrong. He con­tin­ues to con­found of­fi­cials, even from the grave.

“Mr. Doe is an enigma,” wrote Jus­tice Gary Trot­ter in a 2011judg­ment as­sess­ing the man’s fit­ness to stand trial. “Apart from his mount­ing crim­i­nal record, lit­tle else is known about Mr. Doe.”

Doe had a long his­tory of pe­dophilia, vi­o­lence against po­lice and dis­obey­ing ev­ery le­gal or­der he was ever given, ac­cord­ing to Trot­ter’s judg­ment. The same doc­u­ment notes Doe was se­lec­tively mute, re­fus­ing to re­veal any­thing about him­self to any­one.

Was he Roy Nor­man, who was caught steal­ing from a Good­will do­na­tion box in 2007? Though he told of­fi­cers he was 16, they sus­pected he was closer to 30, court doc­u­ments said. Or was he Chung Nu or Jonathan Grant, two other aliases po­lice say he used?

Toronto po­lice iden­ti­fied Doe by his fin­ger­prints through var­i­ous ar­rests and in­car­cer­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to Trot­ter’s judg­ment.

Doe’s for­mer lawyer, Brian Irvine, con­firmed to the Star that the man who was the sub­ject of Trot­ter’s de­ci­sion was the same as the one killed be­side the train tracks last year.

Toronto po­lice Const. Jenif­fer­jit Sidhu said it would gen­er­ally be re­mark­able for any­one to re­main anony­mous to the law for so long.

“I can’t think of any in­stance where we haven’t been able to even­tu­ally get the in­for­ma­tion and I’ve been on (the job) for 19 years,” she said.

Over the years, Toronto po­lice be­came quite fa­mil­iar with Doe. He had nu­mer­ous in­ter­ac­tions with of­fi­cers.

In 2003, Doe re­peat­edly tried to ap­proach a 15-year-old girl work­ing at a li­brary and grabbed her hand, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

Amonth later, Doe was con­victed of sex­ual as­sault af­ter try­ing to kiss a 13-year-old boy on the lips.

Then, in 2009, Doe ap­proached a 5-year-old at a bus stop, kissed his arm, as­saulted the boy’s fa­ther and “armed him­self with a stick and pitch­fork” against po­lice, the doc­u­ments say.

In 2009 and again in 2015, he swung a base­ball bat at of­fi­cers try­ing to ap­pre­hend him along the same stretch of train tracks where he died.

In 2012, Doe sur­vived a po­lice shoot­ing that in­jured his hand, thigh, chest and ab­domen af­ter ad­vanc­ing on an of­fi­cer with a kitchen knife. The prov­ince’s po­lice watch­dog, the Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tions Unit (SIU), didn’t charge the of­fi­cer in­volved.

As lit­tle as po­lice were able to find about Doe’s back­ground, psy­chi­a­trists were even less suc­cess­ful in di­ag­nos­ing him.

Sev­eral doc­tors at mul­ti­ple in­sti­tu­tions as­sessed Doe in 2006. Two gave him an­tipsy­chotic med­i­ca­tion, which didn’t ap­pear to change his be­hav­iour.

On June 17, 2016, the day Doe died, of­fi­cers planned to serve him with no­tice that he’d failed to put his name on On­tario’s sex of­fender reg­istry as re­quired. Concerned about his men­tal state, they con­sulted a psy­chi­a­trist be­fore try­ing to ap­proach him.

Doe had lived on that stretch of Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way tracks near We­ston Rd. and Shep­pard Ave. W., to the north­east of St. Basil-the-Great Col­lege School, on and off for some time, the 2011 court doc­u­ments say.

The grasses near Doe’s for­mer camp are taller than the av­er­age per- son. The leaves of the bushes and trees there are so dense that some­one could eas­ily dis­ap­pear into them, re­main­ing nearly in­vis­i­ble from the town­homes back­ing onto the west side of the tracks.

That’s ex­actly what Doe did that day, ac­cord­ing to the SIU’s re­port. As po­lice moved north through the brush, one of­fi­cer slipped on the loose gravel sur­face next to the rails. Doe then leapt out of a bush a few me­tres away and charged to­wards the group, butcher knife in hand.

When Doe raised the knife above his head, another of­fi­cer shot him four times.

SIU di­rec­tor Tony Loparco opted not to charge the of­fi­cer in­volved, say­ing he was jus­ti­fied in fear­ing for his own safety.

Last sum­mer, Doe be­came the 831st home­less per­son to die in Toronto since 1985.

Not one of the two dozen peo­ple who came to a me­mo­rial in his hon­our had ever met him. “Ev­ery John Doe has a fam­ily,” mourner Michael Mal­lard told the Star at the time.

With the SIU case hav­ing wrapped up last week, more than a decade’s worth of ef­forts have ended with noth­ing to show.

“Some­one must know who he is,” Irvine, Doe’s for­mer lawyer, mused Thurs­day. “It’s been a mystery.” Emma McIntosh can be reached at em­cin­tosh@thes­

The man known as John Doe was killed in an en­counter with po­lice last June.


It was along this sec­tion of rail­way cor­ri­dor near We­ston Rd. and Shep­pard Ave. W. that John Doe was shot and killed by po­lice last sum­mer.

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