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Charges laid over Gayline death threat

Albert Matthew Johnson appeared in court Apr 30

An Ottawa man faces trial after a letter threatening a then-unidentified man was sent to Gayline, the telephone support line operated by Pink Triangle Services (PTS).

The letter, received in March, contained the message “Gays will die tonight” formed from cutout letters and included a photograph of the unknown man.

“I was shocked and concerned for volunteers,” says Maura Volante, executive director of PTS. “I had this letter and a photograph of a person – the target – who I didn’t recognize.”

“I have never come into contact with that kind of hatred,” says Volante.

As a precaution, the Gayline was temporarily shut down for one evening. PTS also closed the Kelly McGinnis Library.

The man in the photo was later identified by police, who confirmed he had received a similar letter. Police told the Ottawa Citizen the man was an acquaintance of the letter sender.

“We were lucky and very pleased with the way it turned out,” Sgt Ralph Heyerhoff says of month-long investigation. Heyerhoff is head of Ottawa Police’s Hate Crimes Unit.

Heyerhoff says it’s not uncommon for anonymous correspondence to be sent to individuals, businesses, universities or community groups.

“Usually, with any anonymous form of communication – whether it be telephone, e-mail or physical letter – it can be very difficult to trace it back to the originator of the message,” he says.

Volante says that as far as she knows, the threatening letter was a first for PTS but she points out that Gayline has received thousands of threatening messages over the years.

“I think there were lessons learned for us,” says Volante.

In addition to the measures taken with Gayline and the library, Volante says in retrospect she would have liked to have notified all PTS program coordinators, as well as board members.

Albert Matthew Johnson, 23, of Ottawa is charged with uttering threats.

Johnson appeared in court Apr 30 and will appear again May 18. No plea has been entered.