When I first heard that Russell Young missed his own gaybashing trial, I am ashamed to say I blamed the victim.
“How could he abdicate his responsibility like that?” I asked myself and every colleague who would listen. “How could he allow the men who allegedly smashed him in the face, knocked him unconscious and shattered his ankle to keep wandering the streets, free to potentially jump the next queer they see?”
However traumatic testifying in court and reliving the incident may be, I think we all have a responsibility to ourselves and to our community to hold gaybashers accountable. How could Young miss that?
Turns out he didn’t. Young was there all along. It’s the Crown who let us down.
As the trial began on the courthouse’s third floor Sep 26, Young was dutifully sitting in his assigned courtroom two floors up. Nobody told him the case had been moved. In fact, it was still listed on the trial docket outside the door.
So he sat and he waited and he waited some more.
Crown counsel Elliott Poll knew the case had been moved. The defence knew it too. Even the judge presumably knew it. No one thought to look for Young upstairs, even as they supposedly scrambled to locate him.
Sure, they paged him on the courthouse intercom, but he was sitting in a soundproof courtroom. And yes, they even tried calling him, but the sheriff had confiscated his cell phone because recording devices aren’t allowed in the courthouse.
So Poll gave up. He gave it an hour and called it quits. He didn’t even try to adjourn the trial, to postpone its continuation for a few days or weeks in the hopes that his key witness would resurface.
He just dropped the case and washed his hands of Russell Young and his alleged gaybashing.
Why did Poll jump directly to staying the charges? “Well, we weren’t in a position to say when we would be able to proceed and we weren’t sure we’d even be able to get the complainants to attend,” Crown spokesperson Stan Lowe told Xtra West Oct 16.
“It’s not unusual, when cases like this happen, that we have a case, we’ve prepared for it, we tried to get contact with the person and even have contact on the day of, [then] they don’t show up,” he continued.
But Russell Young did show up. He was waiting patiently where he had been told to wait while, unbeknownst to him, the Crown was dropping his case out from under him.
“I’m pretty sick about the whole thing,” Young told Xtra West last issue. “How can they not send someone up to the original courtroom to check? I was there waiting. I wanted to say my piece.”
Young says Poll apologized to him when they finally connected. “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.'”
Then he said there was nothing more he could do.
Poll was probably concerned about the time limits involved in resurrecting stayed charges and the potential for the defence to make “abuse of process” arguments, says Lowe.
But all that’s been resolved now, he hastens to add. “We’ve reinstituted the charges against both individuals. We’re going back to trial.”
Apparently, after Poll stayed the charges, the case went higher up and the deputy regional Crown authorized its resurrection.
And so this comedy of errors comes to a happy conclusion–for now. Young will presumably get his chance to take the stand once a new trial date is set Nov 20.
Of course, his testimony is only step one. It remains to be seen how strong a case the Crown put together–the same Crown who didn’t think of checking if Young was upstairs. The same Crown who was so quick to drop the charges.
And if Poll does manage to convict the men who allegedly told Young ‘we hate your kind’ before assaulting him last July, will he seek a hate crime designation?
I think we all better keep an eye on Poll to make sure he doesn’t drop anything else in this case.