The judge got it. The question is why didn’t the Crown? And what are we going to do about that?
Last week, Judge Valmond Romilly threw the book at the first youth arrested in the Nov 2001 killing of Aaron Webster. The youth got three years, including two years to be spent in jail-the maximum sentence allowed by law.
In contrast, two weeks ago, the Crown asked the judge for a sentence of only 20-32 months. It’s rare for a judge to deliver a sentence longer than the Crown requests.
But wait! It gets better.
Judge Romilly ruled that Webster died in a gaybashing. It’s hard to believe that the youth could be so naïve as to not notice that gays cruise the Second Beach area of Stanley Park, he said in his ruling.
In contrast, two weeks ago, the Crown told the judge that it accepted the youth’s insistence that he was not looking for gays to bash in the early-morning hours of Nov 17, 2001. He was looking for peeping toms, the youth insisted to police. And the Crown bought it.
But the judge didn’t believe the youth’s claim. It was a gaybashing, he decided. And even if the youth was telling the truth about not targeting gays, he clearly was in search of people engaging in a “sexual lifestyle”-peeping toms, Romilly ruled. In either case, the judge pronounced, the act constitutes a hate crime.
In contrast, two weeks ago, the Crown refused to characterize the killing as a hate crime.
There’s great wisdom in the judge’s ruling, not least of all his refusal to let the accused slither off the hook. Imagine if people could kill fags in our own cruising areas and get a low sentence by claiming they were after “perverts,” not fags.
The judge got to the heart of the matter. Sexuality was the issue in the air that night. Someone was killed because his sexuality was judged and judged worthy of capital punishment.
Aaron Webster was not the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was targeted in a gay area and killed.
The judge could see it. It was an “abhorrent and heinous crime” involving planning, premeditation and intent, he ruled.
And he compared the accused to Nazi youth “stalking human prey for entertainment.”
Bingo! Good for him.
Why was the Crown so blind as to not see it?
We’ve got to do something about this. There are three other trials coming up in connection with this incident, and so far everyone’s pleaded not guilty-and are presumed to be so in Canada’s judicial system.
I hope Romilly’s comments are being taken to heart by the Crown. The judge has certainly got something to teach our Crown counsels. The Crown’s case from the beginning should have called the killing a gaybashing. And at sentencing, it should have characterized the killing as a hate crime. The judge did the Crown’s work for it this time.
But Romilly’s decision highlights a weakness in the judicial system when it comes to violence against lesbians and gays: the Crown counsels. Where have they been for the last 20 years? Two decades ago, they could have claimed ignorance on issues involving gays. But they’ve had lots of time to catch up, to talk to our leaders and get educated. To understand issues around our sexuality as well as our community identity.
There is no excuse for the terrible judgement the Crown exercised in this case.
We must hold our Crown counsels accountable. They must reach out and learn from us about our sexuality, our sex culture and customs, the history of violence being committed against us. And our refusal to take it any longer.
The local Crown counsels, and representatives from the attorney general’s office, must sit down with the ad-hoc safety committee that our community formed immediately after Webster’s killing. Our leadership needs to educate these people.
And Attorney General Geoff Plant needs to speak out and educate the Crowns. Judge Romilly’s comments about gaybashing, hate crimes and sexuality need to be widely distributed across BC. The attorney general needs a new policy instructing local Crowns to follow the judge’s lead in characterizing gaybashings and hate crimes.
I don’t think the Crown yet understands how furious our community is about its actions in this case. It must learn and change.
Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.