A man accused of sexual assault was returned to jail after his bail was revoked in court Tuesday, following weeks of public protests outside his family home in west Edmonton.
Wade Stene has been charged in connection to an incident in early March involving an eight-year-old girl.
“It has been a difficult few weeks and we are breathing a huge sigh of relief with today’s news of Mr. Stene’s return to custody,” a family member of the victim said in a statement issued to Global News.
“We are grateful for the support of the community and we look forward to the quieting of our neighbourhood as we await the outcome of future court proceedings.”
In order to protect the victim’s identity, Global News is not naming the family member.
On March 10, in the area of 144 Street and 110 Avenue, the girl was pulled into a vehicle and sexually assaulted before being dropped off nearby, police said.
Stene, 37, was released on bail earlier this month.
While the Edmonton Police Service regularly issues warnings about sex offenders who are released, it took the unusual step on June 17 of issuing a warning related to someone whose case has not yet been tried.
Since his release, protesters have swarmed the area around Stene’s home, calling for him to be returned to jail as he awaits trial.
On Tuesday, a court ruling overturned the bail decision after Stene himself expressed a desire to return to custody.
“I’m disappointed that it’s being revoked,” Stene’s lawyer Mark Jordan said on Tuesday afternoon. “He was released after a fair hearing in the Court of Queen’s Bench.
“The Queen’s Bench Justice heard evidence from the Crown and the release plan, and they decided that release was appropriate.
“So for it now to be revoked, it’s disappointing, but Mr. Stene desired for his release to be revoked and to return to custody.”
Jordan said Stene’s request to go back to jail is very uncommon.
“It’s the first time in my memory of cases I’ve handled where the accused has expressed a desire to return to custody,” he said.
“Mr. Stene’s presumed innocent,” Jordan added. “He’s been found guilty already in the court of public opinion.
“I imagine that some of those protesters will believe they’ve been successful in having Mr. Stene returned to custody.”
Jordan said his client only wanted to return to custody because of threats and harassment that he and his mother have been facing.
The family of the girl who was assaulted initially expressed outrage at Stene’s release but later said the ongoing protests were becoming a “concern” to the neighbourhood.
“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,” a family member of the victim, who Global News is not naming to protect the girl’s identity, said in an email on June 22.
“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.”
Kimberly Moncion told Global News on Tuesday that she had been protesting outside the residence Stene is believed to have been in since Father’s Day, sometimes with her children joining her.
“It’s such a relief to know that he’s gone,” she said, adding that she believes his bail release was a failure of the justice system.
Moncion, who livestreamed some of the protest on social media, told Global News that she herself is a victim of sexual abuse and that she believes more needs to be done to protect victims, particularly children.
“There’s a lot of pedophiles out there that have been released in our community,” she said. “The children are our future, they deserve to live. These scars, they don’t heal.”
Moncion said she and a network of activists are also protesting outside a number of homes where they say sex offenders are living.
“We will pack up, we will leave, we will give the McQueen area their neighbourhood back now that their children can play safely, and we’ll move on to the next… until the justice system listens and stops letting these guys out.”
Jordan filed a Police Act Complaint last week, saying the public warning issued by the EPS “undermined the role of courts in our society and was willfully or negligently false.”
“A superior court judge determined that Mr. Stene should be released, notwithstanding the considerations in section 515(1)(b) of the Criminal Code,” the complaint reads. “Therefore, the duty to warn should not have been triggered.”
The complaint also says the public warning, shared on the EPS Facebook page, generated comments that included “threats to cause significant harm, including death, to Mr. Stene. Some of the posts even included the address of where it is believed he is living at.”
Stene’s lawyer has also criticized police for how they handled the protests against his client in the McQueen neighbourhood.
At a news conference on Tuesday night, EPS Chief Dale McFee defended his police department’s actions.
“We have a different role in public safety, and the way we did this and the circumstances and the offence… we made the decision based on that and we stand by that decision,” he said.
“In relation to the lawyer making statements about our actions and challenging us… that’s fine… We’ll defend our actions and we feel confident we can have that discussion.”
McFee said police will not make decisions based on what a lawyer or anybody else ” throws out in the media.”
“Our decisions were based on what we thought was a public safety concern and we stand by that,” he said.
–With files from Emily Mertz, Global News