The charges against two men accused of assault causing bodily harm in an alleged queerbashing incident were stayed as proceedings were set to begin, Sep 26, because the trial was moved to a different courtroom at the last minute and nobody thought to tell the alleged victim.
That man, Russell Young, received a letter instructing him to appear in a fifth floor courtroom at 222 Main St in Vancouver. He arrived early on the day and checked the court docket posted outside the door for the names of his alleged attackers, which confirmed he was in the right place. So, he settled into the public gallery to wait for his turn to testify.
But in the interim, because of judicial scheduling, the proceedings were moved to a courtroom two floors below. As the judge took to the bench there, Young’s alleged attackers and a bevy of lawyers waited for Young to show up.
The court moved on to other business while prosecutors scrambled to locate him. They paged him but, because he was sitting in a soundproof courtroom, he didn’t hear the call. They phoned him, but sheriffs in the lobby were holding his camera phone because recording devices are not allowed in court.
It didn’t occur to anyone to check the originally scheduled courtroom.
Without the key witness, Crown prosecutor Elliott Poll asked that the charges against Young’s alleged attackers be stayed, meaning they would likely never face justice.
“I’m pretty sick about the whole thing,” Young told Xtra West Oct 4. “How can they not send someone up to the original courtroom to check? I was there waiting. I wanted to say my piece. When I talked to [Poll], he said, ‘All I can do is tell you I’m sorry. If I had known, I would have sent someone up. I never even thought to send someone up to the other courtroom.'”
“[Poll] phoned me to apologize,” says Young’s lawyer Michael Frost. “He said, ‘I screwed up,’ and there isn’t much doubt that he did.”
Frost is pursuing damages against Young’s alleged attackers in civil court, but without a criminal conviction he says he’ll now have to prove that the men attacked Young and caused his injuries.
Frost says he asked Poll if the trial could be rescheduled in cases like this one.
“He said, ‘As a matter of policy, we don’t.’ Which I think is very poor, but unfortunately that seems to be the case,” says Frost.
The alleged attackers “are probably walking around gloating,” he continues. “For them to get away with this sticks in the craw, frankly, but the prosecutor said there’s nothing he can do at this point.”
Xtra West contacted Stan Lowe, media spokesperson for Crown counsel at the BC Attorney General’s office, Oct 3, and left a message requesting information. On Oct 4 we tracked down and contacted Poll who declined to comment, referring us back to Lowe.
“I’ve done some searching and I can tell you at this point that the case is currently under review,” said Lowe when finally reached on Oct 4. “Because of what occurred, they’re reviewing the matter and deciding what the next course of action will be. I’m not sure when the decision will come, but I’m expecting something soon. Once all the stakeholders are notified, I’ll be happy to make that decision public.”
When asked what “under review” actually entails, and what options there could be other than rescheduling the trial or letting the case go unprosecuted, Lowe responded:
“It’s hard to say. All the options. They have to assess the case. They have to look into what occurred that day, which is highly unfortunate, and they’re going to try to do what’s fair and appropriate under the circumstances.”
Randeep Cheema and Ravinder Toor, then 23 and 27 respectively and both of Squamish, were charged with assault causing bodily harm following the attack that occurred on Young near the Esso service station at the corner of Burrard and Davie Sts in the early hours of Jul 30, 2005.
“I was sitting there on a bench having something to eat after going to the bars and [two] guys hopped out of [a] cab and said ‘we hate your kind,'” Young told Xtra West last year. “The next thing I know, I’m getting beaten up. I was down on the ground knocked out and they just put the boots to me.”
Young suffered scrapes and bruises, a blow to the head that knocked him unconscious, and an ankle fracture that has since required multiple surgeries.
“I just had my last surgery on [Sep 20],” says Young. “It’s cost me a year and a half. It’s ruined my life. I lost my job. I have to start off with a new employer and find a new job. Everything is up in the air right now.”