The queer victim in a brutal SkyTrain bashing case is questioning what justice means in Canada after the Crown dropped aggravated assault charges against the man accused of beating him.
The accused was supposed to stand trial in New Westminster, BC on Aug 15-16.
But, says victim Chris Iversen, he was told on Jul 28 that the charges had been dropped due to a lack of evidence.
“I found out two or three days before Pride,” he says. “It’s really crap. I felt like a victim from the attack and now I feel like a victim in the system.
“It blew my mind.”
The accused was a juvenile at the time of the August 2002 incident and cannot be named under young offender legislation.
Iversen, then 16, was travelling home from a Youthquest meeting when he was attacked.
Two men first began harassing him at the New Westminster SkyTrain station. They followed him onto the train and shoved him against the door.
Panicked, Iversen pushed the train’s yellow security strip to call for help.
Then he jumped out at the next station, expecting to find SkyTrain security officers waiting for him.
The platform was empty.
But his alleged attackers had followed him off the train.
That’s when the attack escalated, Iversen says.
The men allegedly punched him and kicked him. They may have even smashed a beer bottle into his face.
His front teeth were kicked into his throat.
Screaming and bloody, Iversen fled.
Five months later, the Crown charged a youth with aggravated assault.
But, says Iversen, the case has now been dropped due to a lack of evidence.
He says prosecutors told him they “didn’t want to have somebody go to jail that wasn’t guilty.”
He says he was told there were problems with the police photo lineup he was shown to identify his alleged attacker.
“I picked a few people,” Iversen admits. “But I was able to identify the one guy who attacked me,” he insists.
“Apparently, it wasn’t quite enough to press charges,” he continues.
Crown spokesperson Geoffrey Gaul confirms there wasn’t enough evidence to bring the accused to trial.
“The Crown did an assessment of the evidence we had and concluded that [there] were elements of the alleged offence we could not prove and, without that evidence, it wasn’t appropriate to proceed with the charge,” he says.
He says the evidentiary standard needed to proceed would have been “substantial likelihood of conviction.”
Gaul could not comment on whether the photo lineup was part of that evidence.
“You ask a very good question but I can’t get into the evidence,” he says.
“Is it possible the case could come back?” Gaul says. “It’s possible given that the police file is still active.”
Lawyer Garth Barriere isn’t surprised to hear the situation hinges on a photo lineup.
He says the process was recently changed because the courts have been critical of past lineups.
“A person might honestly think that the photograph they’re looking at is the person who attacked them but they could be mistaken,” Barriere explains.
“Because of the changes, it’s a little bit harder to get an identification that will hold up in court,” he adds.
New Westminster police spokesperson Staff Sgt Casey Dehaas says the photo lineup procedure changed as a result of a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision.
Under the old system, which Iversen would have gone through, eight pictures would be put on a page and shown to the victim.
Now, Dehaas says, the photos must be presented on separate pages by an officer not involved in the investigation. The photo lineup process is now also videotaped.
Dehaas says it’s frustrating, as it calls into question identification in past investigations. “This was a big issue in the policing community,” he says. “If this was the only way he identified the person, then identity is out the window.”
The man accused in Iversen’s attack initially vanished after being charged and missed a pre-trial appearance.
He was later apprehended after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Then he was released on bail Jun 18.
Iversen spent the last few weeks feeling scared to go out for fear of running into his alleged attacker.
But, he says, he was ready to face the man in court.
Now, he’s just angry.
“I might as well take revenge in my own hands-that’s the way people are going to think about the justice system,” Iversen says.
“I would probably want to kick his ass,” he adds.
And, he says, he’s not taking the setback lying down.
“I’m going to yell and scream until somebody hears me,” he says. “I want to turn this negative into a positive.”
He says he now wants to go on a speaking tour and talk about bullying.
Meanwhile, he’s still dealing with the results of the assault.
He’s had to prepare for surgery for a graft to replace bone smashed in his jaw in the attack.
He says he has considered taking action against his alleged attacker in the civil courts. But he’s not sure how far that would go given the criminal case has been dropped.