Aaron Webster’s killing was a hate crime, a youth court judge ruled Dec 18.
“I’m of the opinion this crime was motivated by hate,” Judge Valmond Romilly told the court, as he sentenced a 19-year-old youth to three years for manslaughter.
The youth, who cannot be named because he was only 17 at the time of the offence, pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this year.
Last week, the judge not only gave the youth the maximum sentence-he also ruled that it was a hate crime, after all. And he specifically rejected Crown counsel’s earlier statement that the incident wasn’t a gaybashing.
“The attack and beating of Mr Webster was, in fact, a hate crime as set out in Section 718 of the Criminal Code,” Romilly ruled.
Section 718 says a convicted person should get a stiffer sentence if the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on, among other factors, “sexual orientation or any other similar factor.”
“I’m aware,” Romilly told the court, that the Crown says the incident wasn’t a hate crime since the youth described it to police as a peeping-tom-bashing rather than a gaybashing.
“I disagree,” Romilly ruled. “I fail to see why this cannot be described as a gaybashing.”
Romilly said he can’t accept the youth’s stated claim that his actions were not motivated by a hatred of gays.
It’s hard to believe, Romilly said, that the youth could be “so naïve that [he] did not notice this area [of Stanley Park] was frequented by gays.”
Romilly then pointed to Section 718’s coverage of “any other similar factor,” and ruled that hatred of peeping toms and voyeurs counts as a form of hate motivation, as well.
Peeping toms and voyeurs represent a sexual lifestyle, too, he explained. It’s a lifestyle “which some may describe as deviant-but it is a sexual lifestyle all the same.”
According to police interview transcripts that Romilly read to the court, the youth admitted that he had come to the park looking for “fucking voyeurs” to beat up. It was not the first time he had done such a thing, the youth told police.
Romilly compared the accused to Nazi Germany-era youth “stalking human prey for entertainment.”
“I do not find that the circumstances of this case suggest youthful bad judgement in the heat of the moment,” Romilly ruled. This was an “extremely violent and unprovoked attack.”
This “abhorrent and heinous crime” involved planning, premeditation and intent, Romilly continued.
“It is the type of offence that the public will not countenance.
“I will impose the maximum.”
Romilly then sentenced the youth to three years, two of which will be served in jail. The remaining year will be served at home, under strict conditions yet to be set.
The Crown had asked for just 20-32 months. The defence had asked for no jail time at all.
In reaching his sentencing decision, Romilly dismissed most of the lawyers’ suggestions for a lighter sentence. The youth has already managed to avoid “the rigours of an adult sentence,” he pointed out.
Earlier this year, the Crown asked to raise the youth to adult court to face a stiffer penalty, but withdrew the application after he agreed to plead guilty in youth court.
Romilly also pointed to the fact that the youth took one and a half years to confess to police. The youth originally denied any involvement in the incident, Romilly told the court, quoting again from police transcripts.
For both these reasons, Romilly rejected the prospect of a lighter sentence without jail time. “A non-custodial sentence would not be appropriate under the circumstances,” he ruled.
The judge also expressed amazement at the psychiatrists who assessed the youth and reported that he showed “no psychopathic, criminal or anti-social traits.”
“I wish to state from the outset that it causes me some alarm that all the professionals seemed so charmed by [the youth],” Romilly said.
The judge also accepted Jim Deva’s victim impact statement on behalf of the gay community. This statement-and its claim that the crime was a gaybashing that spread terror and fear in the gay community-is relevant to the case, he ruled.
Immediately after the judge finished reading his decision, a court sheriff slapped a pair of handcuffs on the youth. As he was led out of the courtroom, the youth muttered to his family sitting silently in the front row, “See you later.”