About 100 Edmontonians gathered in the McQueen neighbourhood Saturday, asking for the reversal of a bail decision involving a man who was charged with sexual assault in March.
The small group gathered peacefully, with many holding signs demanding protection for victims of sexual assault.
Police said on March 10, a young girl was walking home in the area of 144 Street and 110 Avenue when she was approached by someone in a vehicle she didn’t know.
The girl was pulled into the vehicle and sexually assaulted before being dropped off nearby, police said.
Thirty-seven-year-old Wade Stene has been charged in connection to the incident but was released on bail earlier this week.
While the Edmonton Police Service regularly issues warnings about sex offenders who are released, it took the unusual step Wednesday of issuing a warning related to someone whose case has now gone to trial.
Police also let the public know he would be living in McQueen — the same neighbourhood where the assault took place.
Then, on Friday, police took another unusual step and issued a post saying that vigilante justice will not be tolerated.
The organizer of Saturday’s protest said that she believed the majority of the neighbourhood would prefer Stene to remain in custody as he awaits trial.
Glori Meldrum, the founder of Little Warriors and Be Brave Ranch, said at the protest Saturday that she was inspired seeing so many people standing up for the family of the girl involved.
“I’m so proud that it’s peaceful and people are standing up for this little girl and her family and the beautiful children in this community,” Meldrum said.
“It is about time that people rise up against child sexual abuse.”
Stene’s lawyer has repeatedly said that his client is presumed innocent until a judge says otherwise, adding he has heard of Stene’s family being harassed over the past week.
“Those individuals that are worried about him living in their community, they should recognize that he is presumed innocent,” Mark Jordan said Saturday.
“The type of vigilante justice that’s occurred, with people threatening him online or threatening his mother in person — I understand from her, someone told her she should die.
“That’s completely uncalled for and they should allow the family to live in peace.”
Stene’s release comes with conditions, including that he must wear a tracking bracelet on his ankle, stay at home 24 hours a day, have any travel for medical or legal appointments approved by his bail supervisor and have no contact with anyone under the age of 18.
He is also not allowed to buy, possess or consume any alcohol or non-prescribed controlled substances.
On June 22, the ministry of Alberta Justice and Solicitor General provided the following statement on the matter:
“In this matter, at both the bail hearing and bail review, the Crown advanced all evidence available and did everything they could to ensure the accused was not released back into the community. The decision to release the accused, and under what conditions, was made solely and independently by a Court of Queen’s Bench justice. While Albertans do not always agree with independently made judicial decisions, we have to abide by them. This case remains before the courts, and the Crown is continuing to review all options.”
–With files from Julie Finkelman and Phil Heidenreich, Global News