Death at post-prom party raises concerns about civic responsibility: observers
The death of a teenager at a post-prom party held at an Airbnb rental property north of Toronto should be raising questions around safety and civic responsibility in an evolving industry, lawyers and police said Thursday as arrests were announced in the case.
York Regional Police said two teens are now charged with first-degree murder, and a third faces a related charge, but hundreds of potential witnesses fled the scene without helping the victim or providing information to authorities afterwards.
Some of that reticence may stem from the fact that questions around legal liability in short-term rentals are murky at best, with everyone from insurance companies to courts still navigating a new economic reality created by companies like Airbnb, observers said.
Bill Dick, a British Columbia-based personal injury lawyer who has led seminars on the risks associated with graduation and prom parties, said the shooting death of 18-year-old Rizwaan Abookbabar Wadee marks the worst-case scenario many industry watchers have been bracing for.
"This is the 'what if,"' Dick said. "This is the tragedy. Someone who wants to involve themselves in the sharing economy can end up in this kind of a nightmare scenario."
Wadee, of Vaughan, Ont., died in the early morning hours of May 3 while attending an unsanctioned post-prom party, said York police Const. Andy Pattenden.
He was allegedly shot to death at a large home in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., that Pattenden said had been rented through Airbnb. The company did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Pattenden said that while as many as 400 people were attending the party at one point, police arrived to find only Wadee's body lying in an upstairs bedroom of a completely empty house.
"They just booked it out of there," Pattenden said. "And the 911 call came a pretty significant amount of time after the shooting had taken place. We're unclear if anyone even tried to deliver first aid to this victim ... It's disturbing."
Party-goers' reluctance to help has also extended to the investigation, Pattenden said, adding police had received only one video and a handful of still photos taken at the time of the shooting. Pattenden said he's confident more footage exists and appealed to witnesses to share the material they either captured themselves or received from friends in the days since Wadee's death.
Jahdea Paterson, 18, of Toronto and a 17-year-old boy who can't be identified are charged with first-degree murder, while a 16-year-old boy is charged with being an accessory.
Paterson surrendered to police overnight after a Canada-wide warrant was issued for his arrest, police said. The other two accused, who also face firearm charges, were arrested shortly after the shooting.
Pattenden said the force has become familiar with large parties held at Airbnb rentals, adding some homes are even stripped of furniture and left largely vacant specifically for that purpose.
He said last week's party began as an unofficial post-prom celebration for students at Bill Crothers Secondary School in Markham, Ont., but the crowd grew as attendees shared details of the event on social media.
Neither the suspects nor the victim were students at Bill Crothers, Pattenden said. A statement from the York Region District School Board confirmed that Wadee attended Maple High School in Vaughan.
"Our thoughts are with the student's family and friends, and with all of those who are affected by this loss and act of violence," the board's director of education Louise Sirisko said in a statement, adding that some parents may be concerned about safety.
"While after-prom parties are not school-sanctioned events, we know that end-of-year festivities are occurring and that students and their families are making decisions in their best interest. It's important for families to have open conversations about these events and supports that are available."
Dick stressed a similar message, noting questions around liability are still very much evolving in the context of Airbnb rentals.
He said that while there is little to no case law involving injuries sustained on properties rented through Airbnb or similar organizations, the courts have made it clear that property owners do owe a "duty of care" to any minors who come to harm on their grounds.
"Airbnb is supposed to do the vetting, which does insulate the home-owners to some extent in the sense that if they don't know there are minors on the property they can't be responsible," Dick said. "But the real issue is how much vetting does Airbnb do?"
Pattenden said Airbnb has largely replaced the function formerly filled exclusively by hotels, saying the fatal shooting should be prompting conversations about everything from personal responsibility to safety concerns around unsupervised parties, regardless of where they take place.