With just one week to go before the last of Aaron Webster’s convicted killers gets sentenced for manslaughter, gays and lesbians have a message for the courts-and each other.
“This was an atrocious hate crime,” says Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva. “[The courts] have not dealt with it appropriately and it’s time they started.”
The Crown still hasn’t acknowledged that Webster’s killing was a gaybashing, Deva explains. The prosecutor should have at least introduced the concept at trial. “I think he bought into the whole peeping tom thing.”
Police found Webster’s severely beaten, nearly naked body near the entrance to Stanley Park’s gay cruising trails in November 2001. He had been chased, viciously attacked and left to die by a group of drunk young men and teenagers looking for “peeping toms.”
Though Crown counsel Greg Weber told the court where the beating took place and who participated, he never once uttered the words gay, gaybashing or hate crime during the two-and-a-half-week trial last November.
While crimes are only designated as hate-motivated at the sentencing stage-after the accused has been convicted-Deva says Weber should have at least laid the foundation for such a designation before this stage.
Now, he says, he more than expects the Crown to seek a hate-crime designation at Ryan Cran’s upcoming sentencing hearing. “I demand it. That’s what this demonstration is about.”
The sentence should be “commensurate with the crime,” agrees Murray Bilida, who is co-organizing the Jan 23 courthouse demonstration with Deva. And if it meets the criteria for a hate crime, then it should be designated as such and the sentence should reflect that. (Hate crime designations generally result in longer sentences.)
This was a violent, ruthless crime, Bilida continues, and its perpetrators should get the upper end of the sentencing scale.
Two youths who were minors at the time of the killing are already serving time in a youth detention centre. Cran, 22, was convicted of manslaughter in BC Supreme Court Dec 10. Justice Mary Humphries will hear his sentencing arguments Jan 27.
In addition to his message to the justice system, Deva has one for other potential bashers, as well.
“I want a firm, clear message to every group of young men travelling around with clubs in their cars that this is no longer appropriate.
“Hunting season is over,” he says.
This rally will be cathartic, he predicts. The gay community needs a chance to express its emotions about this whole ordeal.
The rally will also give the community a chance to remember and celebrate Webster’s life, Bilida adds. And it will, he hopes, give people a chance to heal, to find some closure and move on. “To close the chapter and honour its lessons.”
This gaybashing “galvanized” the gay community, Bilida says. Bashing victims don’t just take it in silence anymore-they raise their hands and demand justice.
“We can hold it in our hearts that we aren’t going to shy away. We are going to speak up and stand up for ourselves.
“No more apologies,” he says. Bashings will no longer go unnoticed or unreported. “And hopefully, they won’t be unprosecuted, either.”
Bilida echoes Deva’s warning to potential bashers: “Know that it is unacceptable and never will be again,” he says. “And that there is a whole community here that is poised to respond.
“I think we’ve grown up in some ways,” he notes.
Now it’s important that Aaron Webster not be forgotten, he says. “We owe him this legacy. I think maybe [this rally] is a way to say ‘thank you.'”
Every gay man, woman and teen needs to be there, says Raymond Campeau. Campeau sat through almost every day of the trial. He’s hoping to get a turnout like the last Webster demonstration that marched silently down Davie St two days after his death in November 2001.
The community needs to send a “loud and clear statement that we’re large and we’re not invisible,” he says. “As wounded and offended as we are, we have a strong voice and we care for each other and our community.”
Campeau is urging other community members to “shake off their indifference” and join the rally.
Deva couldn’t agree more. “Just get out and be there,” he says, noting that hundreds of people have called him to voice their anger and concern about the trial. “If you want to do something about it, be there on Jan 23 or simply shut up about it!”
This rally has been in the works since December and everyone has had plenty of notice, he adds. So he doesn’t want to hear any excuses. “Change your plans,” Deva says. “Be there.”
Gay city councillor Tim Stevenson will be out of town for the rally, but will send a proposed motion in his place. It’s a motion he plans to introduce to council Feb 1. It says Webster’s killers were motivated by homophobia and notes the gay community’s outrage over the acquittal of one of the accused. It also calls on the city to “reiterate its commitment to oppose discrimination of any sort, including homophobia.”
And it calls on the city to endorse the Canadian Jewish Congress’ call for more funding for the BC hate crimes program.
The BC Liberals cut funding to the program (which consisted of one overworked RCMP officer, one Vancouver police officer and a part-time Crown prosecutor) after they came to power, Stevenson says. And it’s time the money got restored.
Though the government recently re-instated funding for the Vancouver police officer, the program remains under-funded, Stevenson insists.
The restored money is “great but it falls far short of what the team” was originally intended to do. The team was originally supposed to teach officers how to recognize hate crimes, then help them investigate them and prepare them for court. It was also supposed to collect statistics to track hate crimes in BC.
“We have to be able to get at the root causes of hate,” Stevenson says, and this program is a step in the right direction.
“I think it’s an important motion,” Deva says. A “beefed-up” hate crimes team is a good idea.
Plus, he says, “we need participation from the city. This is a murder that’s affected our city and it’s nice to see the city addressing the wounds.”