3 min

Attack against Edmonton lesbian not investigated by police until five days later

'Our community is resilient... regardless of whether police support is available,' says activist

The Edmonton Police Service is conducting an internal review to determine why a brutal attack against a lesbian was not investigated until five days after the incident was reported.

Shannon Barry was interviewed by CBC Edmonton this week. Watch CBC’s interview here. (screencap, CBC Edmonton)

Shannon Barry was walking home from a bar with a group of friends in South Edmonton at about 3:30am Saturday when four men, who appeared to be between the ages of 16 and 20, started calling them “dykes” and “faggots.”

One of the men allegedly approached Barry, 31, and kicked her in the face, knocking her unconscious for about five minutes. The attack left Barry with a broken jaw, a crushed left eye socket and facial nerve damage.

Barry and her friends reported the crime that night, but when Barry phoned the police on Tuesday to ask about the status of her case, she was told there was no record of the incident and that the officer who had responded to the call had gone on holidays for four days.

“When I called in about an incident report and there was no record of it even happening, that made me angry, very angry,” Barry told CBC. “[It’s] like this never happened to me. Like they don’t care. And that’s what makes me not feel safe in my own city.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Barry had yet to be formally interviewed by the Police Service, reported CTV.

At a media scrum on Thursday night, Edmonton Police Chief Mike Boyd said he is conducting an internal review. He said a review is needed first to determine if a full internal investigation is required.

“When I get all the facts of the circumstances, I will be able to say more about what happened. Until then, I think it would be inappropriate for me to do so.”

Boyd referred to the relationship between the queer community and the Edmonton Police Service as “excellent” and said the service treats hate crime as “a very, very important concern.” He said the Hate Crimes Unit is currently investigating the assault.

Kris Wells, the co-chair of the liaison committee between the Edmonton Police Service and the queer community, says first and foremost the police and the public should be concentrating their efforts on finding the suspects and, secondly, ensuring that Barry has the support she needs.

Wells says a review is needed to determine if there was a breakdown in the reporting procedure, whether that breakdown was an isolated incident or an institutional problem and what, if any, corrective measures are needed.

“Hopefully this is just an isolated situation,” he says. “It’s a very tragic case.”

Wells says the liaison committee is trying to build a relationship based on mutual respect and trust between the police and the queer community. He says the community takes hate crimes seriously and expects an appropriate response from the police service.

“Hate crimes are message crimes,” he says. “They don’t just target an individual victim, but they target an entire community, and that’s why they need to be treated with all seriousness…. Many gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-identified persons are wondering ‘Could I be the next target?'”

A Facebook group titled Community Response Project was created on Thursday to craft a “queer, systemic response to the recent assault against Shannon Barry (and others).” Some of the actions being considered include a “love-in” or a “kiss-in” on Whyte Ave. Other possibilities being raised are a poster campaign and a panel discussion on the issues of violence and policing in relation to the queer community, says Michelle Thomarat, an administrator of the group.

“We wish to point out that our community is resilient and responsive regardless of whether police support is available,” Thomarat says.

In the meantime, Barry is recovering from having had two plates surgically implanted into her face to repair damage caused by the attack.

In a message from Barry posted to the Facebook group, she writes, “Everyone keeps asking me if I need anything…. I want you to listen… watch closer to what’s going on around you. Educate your children, this is not ok. Teach them to be proud of who they are, to accept others for their diversity and celebrate it.”

Barry expects to be fully physically recovered in the next month or so.

Chief Boyd hopes to release more details soon, but did not provide a timeline.

— with additional reporting from Ted Kerr