Vancouver
3 min

First arrest in Webster killing

Not time for closure, until changes in policing and education, say activists

ONE ARRESTED. Police made the first arrest in the murder of Aaron Webster (above). Detectives are still seeking witnesses. Credit: Xtra West files

Vancouver police have charged a 19-year-old Burnaby youth with manslaughter in the 2001 murder of Aaron Webster. The suspect cannot be named because he was a juvenile of 17 at the time of the incident. Crown spokesperson Geoffrey Gaul says the man will be raised to adult court for the trial and his name may be released then.



“It’s the start of something really good,” says Det Rob Faoro, who has worked full-time on the case for the last 14 months.



Other arrests will follow, says Faoro. Not all suspects were juveniles at the time of the murder. Police have been working on the assumption that a group of up to five men killed Webster by hitting him in the throat with a bat or pool cue.



The suspect was arrested Feb 12 after a police interrogation. It was not the first time he had been interviewed by police.



Webster was brutally beaten to death in Stanley Park on Nov 17, 2001, near the popular gay cruising area of Lee’s Trail. Police immediately labelled the murder a gay-bashing and noted it had all the markings of a hate crime.



Many gays and lesbians have despaired that police would ever solve the most brutal gay-bashing Vancouver has ever seen. But in an interview with Xtra West two weeks ago, Faoro said he knew who killed Webster and just needed witnesses to come forward to solidify the evidence. Faoro knows there are witnesses to the slaying because of calls to the Crime Stoppers tip line.



Police recently aired a re-enactment of the murder in hopes of flushing out witnesses or jogging the conscience of the killers or confidantes of the killers.



Police Insp Dave Jones, the West End’s top cop, says he’s hoping for further arrests sooner rather than later. But he notes it took six years before witnesses came forward following a murder at a crowded party in Squamish.



“We’re very tenacious on murders,” says Jones.



Webster’s murder galvanized Vancouver’s gay community to a level of activism not seen in two decades. That activism will continue to make the streets safe for gays, says Jim Deva, co-owner of Little Sister’s. Deva is the spokesperson for an ad-hoc group of gays, lesbians and police officers who are addressing safety and policing concerns of the queer community.



The arrest is the “beginning of a new process” but “to think it’s anywhere near closure is totally inappropriate,” says Deva.



“I’d hate to think the momentum we’ve built in the last year is going to end. We’ve only begun to build the foundations” of a safer community. He describes the community’s relations with the Vancouver Police Department as being in an “infant stage. We’ve got a lot more work to do so the police department understands our community and our activities.”



Lorne Mayencourt, the Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Burrard, told the Vancouver Sun that the arrest is “a great relief, not only for me, but for the community. We’ve been living with the fear of having these individuals out on the street. It will be a great relief to know that we’re going to find some closure on this.”



Mayencourt heads a provincial committee investigating bullying in BC schools. The committee’s recommendations are expected next week. In previous interviews with Xtra West, Mayencourt has spoken of the need to educate against homophobia in the schools.



Most gays suspected Webster’s killers were from the suburbs, says Deva. It’s time to look closely at that, he says. “We have to find out what created violence in these young people and defuse that. We need changes in our school system.”



Gay city councillor Tim Stevenson agrees. “We have to go further. We have to get at the root of homophobia. We have a society where young people are brought up to hate. We have to change that through the schools and so on.”



Stevenson is creating an advisory committee to the mayor to address queer safety and policing issues. He agrees with Deva that it’s too early for closure on the case.



“A tragic situation can often propel us into something new and creative,” he says. His civic party, COPE, promised in last autumn’s elections to bring Vancouver a genuine form of community policing.



Asked how committed his party is to substantial change in policing, Stevenson says, “we won’t know until it’s tested. I hope and believe there’s a very strong commitment. The mayor has indicated that to me. I will be pushing COPE.”



The community will learn a lot from watching the justice system as the case proceeds, Deva predicts.



“You can just hear what they’ll say in that courtroom,” he warns, noting that Webster was found naked. “I’d like to see the courtroom full of people from our community. I hope we continue the pressure on the police department, on our community, and on the school system to make our lives safer.”



Deva has words of praise for the VPD’s handling of the case. “I think they’ve been exemplary. They told us it would take time, to trust them. Hopefully, they’ll dot the i’s and cross the t’s and do this very professionally.”



Police are still seeking witnesses to Webster’s murder.



CONTACT.

Det Rob Faoro.

604.717.2519.