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Alleged Hastings-bus basher pleads not guilty

Andrew Joseph Walko to stand trial in November

Vancouver police released these photos, taken from TransLink surveillance footage, of the man they sought in connection with an alleged assault on a lesbian couple exiting a Hastings Street bus in September 2013. Credit: Vancouver Police Department

The man charged in connection with an alleged assault on two lesbians last September has pleaded not guilty to both charges.

Andrew Joseph Walko, 45, is charged with assault and assault causing bodily harm for allegedly following a lesbian couple off the Hastings Street express bus, then punching one of the women in the face.

Walko will stand trial for three days starting Nov 12, 2014, in Vancouver Provincial Court, it was decided April 1. Walko was not in court, but his lawyer, David Tarnow, tells Xtra his client is “very upset” about the charges.

The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) announced the charges against Walko on Jan 14.

Surveillance footage from TransLink shows a man boarding a westbound #135 bus at about 5:15pm on Sept 18, 2013, at Hastings and Kensington in Burnaby. The footage also shows Ali Matson and her girlfriend, Jacqueline Clarke, boarding the bus at 6pm at Hastings and Renfrew.

The women allege a man followed them as they stepped off the bus at Commercial Drive, where he allegedly attacked them.

“He grabbed me by the shoulder, and he punched me in the face with all his body strength,” Matson claims. “My nose was bleeding everywhere, and he gave me two black eyes. He was not holding back at all.”

Matson and Clarke believe they were attacked because of their sexual orientation after they exchanged a kiss and were flirting during the bus ride.

“He just did not like to see two girls kissing,” Matson suggests.

The court heard that a special Crown prosecutor has been assigned to the case. Spokesperson Neil Mackenzie says the Criminal Justice Branch is moving to enhance file ownership among prosecutors and assign cases well in advance of court dates as part of the Provincial Court Scheduling Project.

“The practice of specially assigning files is not new and takes into account a variety of factors, including the nature of the offence and any factors which may make a prosecution more complex,” he says. “We would not discuss the factors taken into account in the context of a specific case, however, when the file was still before the court.”

Lawyers expect five witnesses to testify at Walko’s trial, one of whom is a video forensics expert.

The court also heard there will be two voir dires — or trials within a trial to determine the admissibility of evidence: one about the accused’s statements to police and the voluntariness with which they were given, and the second regarding recognition evidence pertaining to the accused.

VPD’s Constable Randy Fincham said earlier in the case that police take the allegation that the crime was motivated by the women’s sexual orientation very seriously and that the VPD’s hate crimes unit has reviewed the file.