Women deny threats

Trio arrested in Perth Avenue School incident say they're innocent

The three women arrested for spreading threatening letters to school staff at Perth Avenue Public School earlier this year say they have no idea why they’ve been accused of the unusual crime.

In July, Carole Tovell, Linda Pitney and Rafat Parsaei, whose young son attended the Dupont St. and Dundas St. West area school, were arrested and charged with several counts of threatening death and intimidation. Tovell is facing an extra charge of criminal harassment.

The arrests followed a six-month police investigation that began when threatening anonymous letters targeting school staff were found on billboards and littered around the school in December.

According to police, the first letter read: “Our group know where you live, don’t go to Perth Avenue Public School after January the 14th 2009 or we will shoot you and your (family member) to death. We mean it.”

Parsaei “vehemently denies any involvement” with the threatening letters, her lawyer James Morton said in a phone interview Aug. 26.

He speculated possible suspicion may have pointed in Parsaei’s direction due to a dispute with the school regarding her son’s grades.

“It wasn’t a particularly unusual kind of dispute, it was more along the lines of why is he getting this grade when in fact his work, to his parents mind, would indicate he should get a higher grade,” Morton said.

Pitney, who came to know Parsaei while working for her as a handwriting examiner on an unrelated real estate matter, said she was trying to help Parsaei, who has some difficulty with English, get some answers from the school regarding problems with her son. Co-accused Tovell works with Pitney at a Shelburne home they share.

After calling the school looking for document information regarding a spelling bee Parsaei’s son was involved in, Pitney accompanied Parsaei to meet with the principal in the spring. According to Pitney, their concerns and questions fell on deaf ears.

According to police, in May about 100 photocopies of a new ominous letter appeared again on school property and was mailed to nearby homes.

It read: “We have placed a bomb in Perth Avenue Public School and anytime we will activate it if (staff member) is still working there. We will terminate them in any possible way. Students are not a concern to us.”

The second letter named a different staff member.

In late June, another set of threats were distributed in the community, raising concerns once more.

It read: “on Friday night we shot at Perth Avenue Public School’s office window next time we will shoot (named two staff members), the staff and the students. This plan will only be in effect if (the two staff members) continue to work there we will even do it next year.”

When police went to check the school, two holes were found in the office window.

Police said they don’t believe they were bullet holes, but concern for the safety of staff and students escalated.

Although Pitney admits they had called the school and sent letters requesting information she also denies her and Tovell’s involvement with the anonymous letters.

The day Toronto police came to their door in July was a frightening experience, the pair recall.

Officers bashed in their front door, arresting them both.

“They took all our equipment,” Tovell said.

Pitney said as a longtime forgery document and handwriting examiner, it’s negatively affected her business and reputation in the industry.

“I can’t function without a fax machine,” she said.

Both Tovell and Pitney are now retaining counsel to have their names cleared and charges dismissed. Pitney said the idea she and Tovell were sending threatening letters to the school is ludicrous.

“I’m 63, Carole’s 67, why (would) we put ourselves in a position where we’re taking part in that,” she said.

Tovell said the raid and her subsequent arrest has left her shaken.

“Our privacy has been totally invaded, and our quality of life has been just taken away,” she said.

“My door is completely annihilated, it’s got a great big bar, and you go into the house and you just want to be sick, the memories are awful.”

Regardless of the culprits, the Toronto District School board is continuing to monitor the situation as the new school starts up this month, said board spokesperson John Caldarone.

He noted the surveillance cameras were installed at the school in early July, and Perth staff is working with staff from the attached St. Luigi Catholic School “to review safety procedures and make sure everybody is on the same page”.

About this article:

By: Karolyn Coorsh
Posted: Sep 10 2009 11:13 am
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto