Bad Seeds

Toronto, and all of Canada, went into collective shock when Jane Creba was killed the day after Christmas in 2005.

Jane was a pretty 15-year-old. Everyone loved her. She was smart and accomplished, and seemed destined only for great things. She just wanted to go to the Boxing Day sales when gunfire erupted around her. Young black gang members had picked Toronto’s teeming downtown, alive with happy shoppers, for a deadly shootout with each other, and caught their white victim in their crossfire.
The Toronto Star’s crime reporter Betsy Powell was near the scene at the very moment Jane was killed. Powell was also shopping. She had been working earlier that day on a story about gangs, and when she saw suspicious young men in hoodies on the street before the killing, her news senses gnawed at her. Should she call the newsroom to say things looked weird? “Did I focus on them because I’d spent the day watching a DVD of young black men waving guns around?”
By the time, Powell emerged from a store, Jane Creba was dead. Powell went to work, helping her newspaper chronicle the teenager’s tragic end.
It’s said in the news business that there is the story, and then there is the real story, the one every reporter craves to tell. 
Jane Creba’s death – deservedly — was a big story, but if Powell was going to write the real story of Toronto’s gangs, she had to go beyond what her mentor, journalist Ken Becker, called “the exception, the cliché that got the media’s juices flowing.”
Betsy PowellPowell’s book, Bad Seeds: The True Story of Toronto’s Galloway Boys Street Gang is the result – and it is not about the Jane Creba murder. It’s about another innocent, Brenton Charlton, Junior, and the gang members who killed him.
Charlton was by all accounts a delightful fellow. He managed the McDonald’s restaurant at Toronto’s Skydome football stadium. Like Creba, people loved him and he seemed to be going places.
Charlton – and his murderers – were black. But he was killed the year before Jane Creba. And while Charlton’s death was also big news locally, it failed to reach the media heights that accompanied Creba’s passing.
It’s “only when gang members come into white neighbourhoods – shooting Vivi Leimonis (another innocent victim) and Jane Creba — do the murders get national headlines or lead the newscast,” writes Powell.
Charlton and Leonard Bell, his companion in his car who was wounded in the gunfire, were victims of mistaken identity, the collateral result of a turf war pitting two gangs, the Galloway Boys and the Malvern Crew. At the center of the conflict, were the G-Boys’s leader Tyshan Riley, and his subordinates and accomplices Jason Atkins and Jason Wisdom.
Bad Seeds tells why the Galloway Boys and the Malvern Crew hated each other so. These petty gangsters nursed grudges over perceived and real betrayals and acted out vengeful schemes with deadly abandon. Many people got caught in between, and the people of Toronto’s Scarborough borough – A.K.A. Scarberia and Scarlem – were terrorized.
Powell lays out the chronology, from the immigrants who populated the area, the poverty, and the ambitions good and bad, through to a trial that seemed to warrant the media’s attention only at the beginning and end.
As honourable as Charlton and Leonard Bell were, the convicted killer Tyshan Riley was the mirror image. He consistently proclaimed innocence, but Powell demonstrates he was a drug-dealing megalomaniac who ruled by the gun. The odds were against Riley, Powell writes, the “cool,” brash young boy who delighted at catching crayfish in a creek and pulling fire alarm bells grew into a dangerous man. If there is a case for bad seeds succumbing to peer pressure of the most negative sort here, Powell builds it.
Canadians too often like to think gangs are a problem in the U.S., in Atlanta and Los Angeles, but certainly not “Toronto the Good”. In interviews, Powell calls it “willful denial”. What about the Hells’ Angels in Quebec? Or, the Montreal Mafia, and the recent mob hits? Its Dudley Doright image aside, Canada is no oasis from gang warfare.
Betsy Powell’s strongly-written Bad Seeds ends on a hopeful, familial note, but it is a sad story of potential lost – whether it was Charlton’s, or indeed, Riley’s. It is a wakeup call for people anywhere who think that bad things happen only somewhere else.