A protest that began in a west Edmonton neighbourhood on Saturday to voice opposition to the bail release of a man accused of sexually assaulting a young girl shows no signs of coming to an end.
Now, the family of the victim is asking for it to stop.
On June 17, the Edmonton Police Service issued a warning to the public after Wade Stene was granted bail. Stene has yet to see his case go to trial. He is charged with kidnapping and sexual assault in connection with the abduction of an eight-year-old girl in west Edmonton in March.
Following the warning, a public outcry ensued, with the family of the victim expressing outrage and concern over the development, sentiments echoed by members of the McQueen community where police said Stene would be residing. On social media, many people threatened Stene with violence and even death over his release, prompting police to issue another warning on June 19 to say that vigilante behaviour would not be tolerated.
On Saturday, about 100 people gathered in the McQueen neighbourhood to call for the decision to allow Stene to be released on bail to be reversed. Since then, some residents have voiced concerns about the protest not abating.
Gretha Abma, who lives in the McQueen neighbourhood, said since the protests began, she hears loud motorcycles and other vehicles coming through the area at all hours of the day and night.
“As residents, we don’t feel safe in our own neighbourhood right now,” she said.
“We need to find a way to peacefully resolve this and get those protesters to stop, in essence, harassing the whole neighbourhood.”
Craig Houle, one of the protesters who was in McQueen on Monday, told Global News that he doesn’t want “the neighbours to feel like they’re singled out, like we’re trying to keep them awake.”
“We’re trying to make their community more safe.”
Many people have expressed anger that Stene is living in the same neighbourhood where police say the kidnapping and sexual assault occurred.
A family member of the victim, whose name Global News is keeping anonymous in order to keep the victim from being identified, told Global News that while they appreciate the community backing their little girl, they too have concerns.
“We are grateful for the support of so many people who have spoken out in defence of the victim,” the family member said in an email to Global News on Monday. “She is doing as well as can be expected, but this has been a devastating blow to herself and her family.
“We are heartbroken and angry that Mr. Stene has been released on bail… and believe that the more appropriate decision would have been to keep him in prison until his hearing,” the email goes on to say.
“However, we do not condone the harassment and threats Mr. Stene’s family has experienced. We hope that future protests will be directed at the courthouse and not at Mr. Stene’s home.”
The family member said they “are acutely aware of all of the lives at stake here, including, especially, the victim, but also the members of the McQueen community, and Mr. Stene’s family.”
Stene’s lawyer, Mark Jordan, has repeatedly noted that his client is presumed innocent until a judge says otherwise, and that he is concerned by threats that have been made.
“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,” he said on Saturday.
“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 that he not have any 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 Monday, Alberta Justice issued a statement about the ongoing controversy surrounding Stene’s release on bail.
“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 ministry said. “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.”
Stene’s next court appearance is scheduled for July 2.
–With files from Global News’ Allison Bench
Watch below: (From June 18, 2020) A man accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting an eight-year-old girl in west Edmonton three months ago has been discharged from the remand centre. Nicole Stillger has reaction from the outraged community where the alleged crime happened and Quinn Ohler brings us the perspective of lawyers who say police warning the public about Wade Stene’s release undermines the legal process and presumption of innocence.