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Call it a hate crime, BC judge urged

Courts need to show that 'these kinds of offences won't be tolerated,' Crown says

Shawn Woodward Credit: Shimon Karmel photo

The aggravated assault that left a Vancouver man in a care home is a hate crime that merits six to seven years in a penitentiary, a BC Crown prosecutor urged a provincial court judge Oct 22.

Shawn Woodward was convicted in August of delivering a March 13, 2009 sucker punch to Ritchie Dowrey in a Davie St gay bar.

Woodward had relied on a self-defence claim to extricate himself from the charges. He testified that Ritchie Dowrey touched his crotch in Vancouver’s Fountainhead Pub.

Judge Jocelyn Palmer didn’t buy it.

“Mr Woodward has fabricated that story to justify his outrageous assault on Mr Dowrey,” Palmer ruled in August.

Woodward’s lawyer, Joel Whysall, suggested two years in prison.

Crown counsel Jacinta Lawton asked the court to find that “Mr Woodward was motivated on that evening by hatred based on sexual orientation.”

That hatred, she added, was “unmuddied by provocation.”

“It is, in my opinion, hatred that comes from somewhere within Mr Woodward,” Lawton said.

The Crown said Woodward went directly towards Dowrey with the sole purpose of punching him, to protect his own manhood.

To consider this case anything but a hate crime “strains common sense,” she said.

Woodward had testified that he knew he was in a gay bar, having been there before. He told the court at trial that Dowrey had offered to buy him a drink, touched him on the shoulder and later put his arm around him before grazing his thigh.

Lawton said Woodward put on his backpack in order to leave the bar but deliberately took a long way out to punch Dowrey.

Dowrey fell backwards, striking his head on the floor.

Dowrey “suffered catastrophic injuries,” Lawton said.

“The need for general deterrence is significant,” she added.

After punching Dowrey, Woodward stepped over his prone body and left the bar; staff and patrons detained him outside.

“He’s a faggot. He deserved it. The faggot touched me. He deserved it,” Woodward said while detained, according to multiple witnesses.

Lawton told the sentencing hearing both witnesses and police were disturbed by Woodward’s behaviour outside the pub.

Woodward hit Dowrey for offering him a drink, Lawton said – something Dowrey should have been able to do with “impunity.”

“The expression of that response is something that should be denounced in the strongest terms,” Lawton said.

Whysall agreed his client had overreacted to Dowrey’s advances but said it did not merit a first-offender receiving the harsh sentence Lawton was suggesting.

He said a hate crime designation is more suitable to situations where an offender “singles out” a target based on sexual orientation.

That’s not what happened here, Whysall said.

“In my opinion, Mr Woodward did not single out Mr Dowrey because of his sexual orientation.

“He did not attend The Fountainhead Pub for the purpose of attacking a homosexual,” Whysall said.

It was a spontaneous reaction “not borne of a deep-seated hatred of homosexuals,” he said.

“If indeed Mr Woodward has any discomfort with homosexuality, it came as a surprise to him.”

Lawton maintains Woodward’s behaviour was the result of being angered by the attentions of a gay man. He did not like Dowrey’s suggestion that he was gay.

“It is very important that the community heard from our courts that these kinds of offences won’t be tolerated,” Lawton said.

Palmer asked Woodward if he wanted to comment. Woodward declined.

The judge reserved her decision and expects to reconvene before mid-November but hasn’t yet set a date.