(Video courtesy Matthew Wright)
Just after 8 p.m. on Saturday evening, the silence of the Ryerson Library’s 10th floor was pierced by a cry for help.
“Did you just take my boyfriend’s laptop?” shouted Gloria Antwi, a fourth-year criminal justice student, glaring at a man who appeared to be walking away from her cubicle.
The stranger she confronted stood in shock, clearly surprised by the accusation. Blinking nervously behind square-rimmed glasses, he smoothed his black windbreaker and stayed silent. Swivelling around, he headed away from the northeast corner of the room, toward the bookshelves.
“Come back! That’s such a crummy thing to do,” she called after him. “Can someone please help me?”
Students attracted by the disturbance stood or craned their necks for a better look. Within seconds, several people surrounded the alleged offender.
“I didn’t take your fucking laptop,” he yelled. “You have no proof. What are you going to do?”
Part-time film student Sam Gatreau grabbed the man’s arm and said, “Prove it.”
There was a moment of pause before the man took off his backpack and pulled down the zipper to reveal the laptop.
“Ok, I’ll give it back,” he said and put it on the ground in front of him. He then tried to break through the crowd of students but they refused to let him leave.
Pushing him to a sitting position against the wall, the man was held down by students until security guards arrived three minutes later. In the meantime a second-year biology student loudly recited the man’s rights under a citizen’s arrest.
The silent study floor was now brimming with noise and movement.
When prompted by one of the guards, Gatreau announced that he was placing the man under citizen’s arrest. The accused was then raised to his feet, handcuffed and taken to security head office at 111 Bond St. for questioning. He was later taken into police custody.
Antwi said she had left her cubicle for less than 30 seconds to answer a call from her boyfriend, who had gone to the Metro down the street.
She had seen the suspect watching her from across the room 30 minutes before the attempted theft, but had no suspicion of his intent.
Returning to her desk, she immediately noticed her boyfriend’s laptop was missing, and the accused man was the only person in the immediate area.
Her boyfriend had checked out the laptop from the Ryerson Library and had an hour left before it was due back.
“I asked (the accused) straight up if he had stolen the laptop. When he didn’t answer me I got suspicious and called him out on it,” she said. “If he had said genuinely that he hadn’t taken it, I might’ve believed him, but he looked so guilty that it gave him away.”
This isn’t the first time the accused, Haroon Chaudhry, 22, has been reported to Ryerson Library’s security.
Neda Habibna, a fourth-year biology student who witnessed the attempted theft on Saturday night, has seen Chaudhry before.
Two weeks ago, on Feb. 25, in the same corner of the same floor of the library, when three of her friends had briefly left their cubicles, she spotted him watching the four laptops she was keeping an eye on.
She started to become suspicious when he approached her and asked for a pen in a slow and nervous voice. He began to hover over her friend’s desk with what appeared to be a first-year physics textbook, scribbling down notes.
According to Habibna who had taken the same physics course, he wasn’t writing anything that made sense. Eventually he left without the laptop but as soon as her friends came back she reported him to security.
“I had my iPhone stolen from the library after leaving it for less than two minutes... so I know how quick these things happen,” she said.
Later when Habibna was leaving the library, Chaudhry happened to get on the same elevator as her on the ninth floor and when they reached the second floor, she immediately pointed him out to a security guard who confronted him. He failed to produce a student card.
Just two hours before the Feb. 25 incident around 6 p.m., Courtney Graham, a first-year midwifery student had her laptop stolen from the same corner of the eighth floor of the library when she went to the washroom.
She had been studying with a friend at the time who was sitting in the cubicle beside her. There were also three other friends in the vicinity yet none of them saw the thief. Graham put posters all around the library offering a no-questions-asked $500 reward and used Facebook, Craigslist and Twitter to spread word about her loss. There has not been a single response.
She says she feels like Ryerson security acted indifferently when she reported the theft.
“They tell me to put my lunch away when I’ve been sitting there for eight hours, but when it comes to responding to a major student theft they act like it’s no big deal,” she said.
According to Graham the security guards didn’t even fill out an official report, instead jotting down a few points in a notepad and then suggesting that she check the lost-and-found at the student centre because she might’ve misplaced it.
She is only one of many students frustrated with how security has dealt with their complaints of stolen laptops.
When third-year biology student, Leila Malek, had her laptop stolen from the same corner of the 10th floor of the library last December, she said she didn’t even bother reporting the theft until the day after.
“The security guard I was dealing with took a whole bunch of notes but didn’t take any action. But that’s what I expected,” she said.
However, Imre Juurlink, from Ryerson Security and Emergency Services, says that student should report thefts because often when someone is caught and police get involved, they can use search warrants to find stolen property. She added that people arrested for theft are usually not part of the Ryerson community.
Mahyar Soeizi, a third-year mechanical engineering student, also had his laptop stolen in the same corner of the library’s 10th floor last Thursday, again around 8 p.m. He says he felt safe leaving it unattended because the room was filled with people. Unfortunately for him, no one around his cubicle had noticed anything out of the ordinary. He reported it to security but has heard nothing since.
There seems to be an emerging pattern of thefts in the northeast corner of the Ryerson Library’s upper floors, especially on the 10th floor. This corner may be a popular area for thieves because it is secluded and offers a vantage point for those standing, who can peer into the cubicles without being detected by those who are sitting down.
On Saturday at midnight, after a heated argument with the librarian, Antwi’s boyfriend managed to get a $40 late charge on his laptop dropped, which had accumulated as he was filling out police reports.
He said he was angry but not surprised when he first learned of the attempted theft.
“Don’t trust anyone but yourself to watch your stuff. My girlfriend was watching my laptop and it still almost got stolen,” said the man, who did not want his name used.
Chaudhry has been charged with two counts of theft, one count of possession of property obtained by crime and one count of fraud.