Writer jailed for his 'imagination'

Lawyer defending teen imprisoned for fictional story about avenging bullies
says 'we're in the middle of a hurricane here'

Writers beware -- your imagination could land you in jail. That's the warning from the lawyer representing a 16-year-old boy imprisoned for writing a fictional story in which a tormented teen plans to blow up his school to avenge years of abuse from school bullies.

The North Stormont boy, who was 15 at the time and cannot be identified under provisions of the Young Offenders Act, was arrested in an OPP raid on his family's home two weeks after he presented an assignment to his Grade 11 drama class at Tagwi Secondary, a high school of 500 students in Avonmore, 20 kilometres north of Cornwall.

The boy, who loves to write and calls Stephen King his hero, had been assigned to write a fictional short story and read it aloud as a dramatic monologue.

His story, entitled Twisted, became the boy's way of pleading with the bullies who had been harassing him to stop their cruelty.

A month ago, on Dec. 8, he was arrested and charged with uttering death threats. He's been held in custody ever since.

"We're talking about a very grave civil liberties issue here," the boy's lawyer, Frank Horn, said yesterday. "Where does this thing stop? What are we going to be allowed to do anymore?"

Mr. Horn said he's received calls of concern from actors and writers across Canada since he took the case.

This case has severe implications," Mr. Horn said, "and people are very concerned. Does this mean writers will have to worry whether they're breaking the law with every sentence they write? Can their imagination break the law? We're in the middle of a hurricane here."

Despite his parents' wishes, staff at the youth detention centre where he's being held refused to allow the boy to speak to the Citizen during a scheduled visit last night.

The boy appears in Cornwall court tomorrow morning for a bail hearing. Four previous bail hearings over the past month were postponed. The accused spent his 16th birthday, Christmas and New Year's alone and in custody.

"I'm going to talk to the Crown and tell them that the world is watching this thing now," Mr. Horn said.

"There is mass hysteria taking place north of Cornwall. The police cannot be dragged into this hysteria. They have to remain objective and investigate properly. But they've been dragged into the lies and exaggerations that have been taking place."

After his presentation, students suggested the boy was playing himself in the monologue. Rumours quickly circulated that the boy had a hit list, bombs and a plan. School officials questioned him, but he vehemently denied any plan of violence.

The OPP, backed by a canine unit, searched the school and then his home. They found nothing, but arrested him anyway. The school beefed up security.

Mr. Horn said the only evidence he's aware of against his client is the text of the story.

The boy's parents said their son is gentle and creative, a boy scarred by several years of verbal and physical abuse by a group of bullies at school. According to his parents, a week before their son penned his story, a gang
of 11 youths at the school attacked him. They said he was pushed to the ground and kicked repeatedly in the head. He had binders thrown at his face and returned home covered in dried blood.

Mr. Horn said complaints by the boy's parents to the school and police regarding the vicious assault have gone unanswered.

"A gang surrounds this boy and attacks him like a pack of wolves," Mr. Horn said. "The police need to investigate this. Instead they've thrown the victim in jail and left him there."

By: Aaron Sands, The Ottawa Citizen, January 8, 2001