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Community demands court treat gaybashing as a hate crime

'He's a faggot. He deserved it,' accused allegedly told witness

ALLEGED GAYBASHING IN A GAY BAR STUNS COMMUNITY. 'There was this sickening thud,' says Lindsay Wincherauk (centre), who witnessed the assault on his friend Ritchie Dowrey at the Fountainhead Pub. Credit: Tallulah photo

“He’s a faggot. He deserved it,” Lindsay Wincherauk alleges the man accused of punching 62-year-old Ritchie Dowrey in the face at The Fountainhead Pub Mar 13 told him after the alleged assault.

“He’s a faggot. He deserved it. I’m not a fag. The faggot touched me. He deserved it,” the accused allegedly repeated to Wincherauk and several others who pursued him down Davie St, as one of Dowrey’s friends held his head in the pub.

The assault has left Dowrey, 62, clinging to life in Vancouver General Hospital (VGH). The force of the punch knocked him backwards to the ground where he hit his head.

Dowrey was transferred to VGH from St Paul’s Hospital last week. He remains in serious condition in the intensive care unit, according to hospital spokesperson Tiffany Akins, who described Dowrey’s vital signs as unstable Mar 23.

“He’s got massive brain damage,” Wincherauk says. “The bottom line is, he’s not coming back.”

Wincherauk alleges he saw the accused ball a fist before the punch.

“I glanced over and saw a clenched fist. And the next thing I saw was Ritchie dropping like a board,” he says. “There was this sickening thud.

“It was absolutely unprovoked,” he alleges.

“He fell like a board to the ground,” Wincherauk continues. “So hard that a hollow thud could be heard throughout the bar.

“I felt like I was going to throw up. I felt ill. To tell you the truth, I’ve felt ill ever since,” he says.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. Just senseless.”

The alleged attack inside a gay space in the gay village has left the community in stunned disbelief.

Dowrey is known as a fun-loving, compassionate man who had a kind word for everyone.

“He never brought anybody down, and he was good to everyone,” Wincherauk says of his friend.

Gregg Gillis has been Dowrey’s pool partner for the past four or five years.

It was Gillis who held Dowrey’s head as they waited for paramedics.

“I can’t sleep. I can see his face constantly,” he says. “Feels like a loop  — it’s looping through my eyes. He was the sweetest guy.”

When they weren’t playing pool or watching hockey, they were arguing over economics. Dowrey, a former investment counsellor, was always urging Gillis to sell his condo. It earned him the nickname “Ritchie Rich.”

Dowrey’s laughter is contagious, says Gillis. “He laughed a lot about a lot of stuff.”

Shawn Woodward, 35, has been charged with aggravated assault in connection with the incident. If Dowrey dies, the charge could be upgraded to manslaughter.

Woodward, who is out on bail, did not attend court Mar 20.

He was represented by lawyer Joel Whysall who says his client “is shocked and embarrassed” by the media coverage of the case.

“The notion that it’s a hate crime,” Whysall says, “he’s not that kind of person.”

Whysall says his client is not gay and had been in The Fountainhead on “a number of occasions” with construction worker friends. The father of two lives with his common-law wife, he says.

Woodward returns to court Apr 15.

Wincherauk says several people contained the suspect until police arrived on the scene. Wincherauk alleges the accused then repeated to police that “the fag deserved it.”

Det Tim Houchen of the Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) hate crime unit could not confirm what the suspect may have said to officers when they arrived on scene.

“What we’re trying to do is get as much of the conversation as we can corroborated,” Houchen says.

He says police are investigating the case as a possible hate crime. He is appealing to witnesses who have not yet spoken with police to come forward.

“It’s a tragedy,” he says. “We want to do our part to mitigate what we can in terms of the fear the community’s feeling.”

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Little Sister’s co-owner and gay activist Jim Deva says the community has had enough of the violence.

He wants concrete action from both the VPD and Crown counsel to send the message that any act of violence motivated by hate is unacceptable.

“If a gay guy touches you, it does not give you the authority to kill him. We’ve got to get that message across,” Deva says.

“Hate crime laws must be applied,” he adds.

It’s time for a provincially funded conference with government, the Crown, police, lawyers and other stakeholders to discuss the application of hate crime legislation, he says. “It would be really nice if we were all on the same page.”

Whysall says he’s been told by Crown the case will not be prosecuted as a hate crime.

But Crown spokesperson Neil Mackenzie says it’s too early to make such a determination.

If the evidence is present that it is a hate crime, those facts will be laid before the judge and will be taken into account at sentencing, Mackenzie says.

“At this stage of the proceedings, we certainly don’t characterize an offence one way or another,” he says.

Mackenzie stresses that a person is not charged with a hate crime. If a hate motivation can be proven, it is considered an aggravating factor at sentencing.

BC Attorney General Wally Oppal says he can’t comment on the specifics of the Dowrey case.

However, Oppal says in general it doesn’t matter when an accused reveals he was motivated by hatred. The accused does not have to state his intention prior to the act, he explains. An offence can be determined to be “motivated by hate even though the utterance is after the committing of the crime.”

Oppal too notes that hate crime provisions of the Criminal Code are applied at sentencing, after an accused is convicted.

“If a criminal is convicted and the motivation is hate, then that is an aggravating factor the judge must take into consideration,” the former judge says.

“No civilized society can tolerate the assault on, or insults to, people who are gay and lesbian,” Oppal says.

“We are a caring and compassionate society, and, unfortunately, we have uncaring people among us.”

Oppal calls the Dowrey case “tragic.”

In light of the attorney general’s comments, Vancouver-Burrard MLA Spencer Herbert says he “encourages the Crown (prosecutors) to look very closely at the evidence” in this case.

Herbert says the gay community is tired of debating what does or doesn’t count as a hate crime in the courts.

Fountainhead co-owner Michel Duprat says it’s the first time such an incident has happened in the pub’s nine-year history.

“Our staff and patrons are angry and sickened at the blatant disregard for another human being that was shown in this attack,” he says. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Ritch and his family.”

Duprat says the staff is having a difficult time dealing with the attack.

“No one saw it coming,” he says.

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With gaybashings apparently on the rise in the gay village, Herbert says it’s time for the community to say enough is enough.

“It’s horrific the number of stories we hear,” he says.

If the community is silent, the violence will continue, Herbert warns.

“It happens all the time in our community and it has to stop,” agrees Ron Stipp of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE).

“This is not an isolated incident here.”

Stipp is calling for a greater police presence in the village.

He too points to a string of recent gaybashings, including last September’s attack on Jordan Smith that broke the man’s jaw. Smith was walking hand in hand with another man in the gay village at the time.

“This has got to stop,” Stipp says. “We want our community to feel safe.”

Stipp wants homophobes put on notice that they are not welcome in the queer community.

“If you don’t like us, don’t come here,” he says.

“If it is a hate crime, it’s a pretty sad commentary that we’re not safe in our own bars,” adds WEAVE’s Jack Herman.

WEAVE is planning a community forum on safety for May 2.

Oppal says he will be there if his schedule is free.

In the meantime, Herbert is once again calling for a provincially funded Bashline so that all incidents can be reported and tracked.

He says it could be anonymous so that victims or witnesses who may be closeted need not fear coming forward.

“We need to be doing more as a province to push back against hate, to push back against violence,” Herbert says.

Police are already investigating several other gaybashings in the West End, while others make their way through the courts.

Michael Kandola is charged with aggravated assault in connection with the Smith case.

Kandola has pleaded not guilty and will face a preliminary enquiry Jun 10-11 in provincial court to see if a trial is warranted.

Police have called the incident a hate crime.

The VPD also called the 2001 killing of Aaron Webster, 41, a hate crime but only one of the three people convicted had a hate designation attached to his sentence.

The Crown also did not seek a hate crime designation when Ravinder Toor was convicted of assault causing bodily harm in connection with the 2005 Pride weekend beating of Russell Young outside the Esso gas station on the corner of Davie and Burrard Sts.

Young died from complications due to surgery in October. He had endured several surgeries in the wake of the assault.

Last month, police issued a public warning after an assault on a 52-year-old man near Stanley Park’s gay cruising trail.

Police say the man was walking through the park just after midnight on Feb 2 when he was approached by another man who allegedly assaulted him without provocation.

The attacker left the victim lying on the ground.

Two weeks later, hate crime investigators said they believe threats made against two men at a Davie St convenience store may have been motivated by hate.

Police say the men were coming out of a convenience store at Davie and Bidwell when a man threatened them with a knife while uttering anti-gay slurs.

VPD Staff Sgt Don Cayer says the man said something like, ‘I hate fags’ while brandishing a weapon that resembled a Swiss Army knife.

No one was injured in that incident.