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Gay man assaulted on way to vigil for Orlando

Dallas Groot ended up in hospital on his way to mourn those killed in club attack

Dallas Groot says he was holding a Pride flag on his way to the Vancouver vigil for the Orlando attack on June 12, 2016, when he was allegedly sucker-punched from behind. Credit: Layla Cameron

Dallas Groot was working through a mixture of emotions as he made his way towards the Vancouver vigil for the Orlando shooting victims on June 12, 2016.

He was angry and heartbroken about the attack at Pulse nightclub but uplifted by the community’s outpouring of support and solidarity in response to a crisis, uplifted by how quickly the community organizes in times of struggle.

Groot stepped off a bus at Granville at Hastings Street at about 7pm and began walking towards the Vancouver Art Gallery. He was holding his camera and a Pride flag, he says.

A few minutes later an unknown man assaulted him, he alleges.

“At the time, it felt like a punch to the back,” he says. “But it was later on discovered that a weapon was used.”

(Dallas Groot shot this video as he lay in a hospital bed on June 12, 2016, after a man allegedly assaulted him on his way to a vigil for the 49 people killed in an Orlando gay club./Dallas Groot)

“I thought it was a fist at first,” Groot says.

“I didn’t even get a good look at the guy because from the time it happened, he already started booking off as I was falling down,” he says.

“It took me about five seconds to fall to the ground. It felt like I had got the wind knocked out of me.”

Vancouver police suspect some sort of pipe or other strong object with a flat end was used in the assault due to the shape of the wound, Groot says.

(The red circle on Dallas Groot’s back, just off his spine, shows where he was allegedly struck with some sort of weapon, he says./Layla Cameron/Daily Xtra)

A spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department confirms they’re investigating the alleged assault.

“We take these matters very seriously and the case has been referred to our hate crimes investigator for their review,” Constable Brian Montague says.

“There are many unanswered questions still with this case and one of the questions we hope to answer through the investigation is if it was motivated by hate,” Montague writes in an email to Daily Xtra.

“Ultimately it is up to the courts to make that determination,” he says, “but if a suspect is identified and arrested, our investigators will put together the best evidence available for the court to make an informed decision.”

Groot was wearing headphones at the time so he says he can’t confirm if the person who assaulted him said anything before or after the incident.

He does, however, feel this was a hate crime.

“Carrying a Pride flag and it being two minutes away from the vigil, I do believe it was a random, targeted attack,” he says. “It’s pretty upsetting that holding a symbol like that can cause something like this to happen.”

Groot says he called the police because he didn’t want anyone else to get hurt, especially as members of the community gathered for the vigil.

In the end, Groot didn’t make it to the vigil himself. As the pain in his back grew more severe it became hard to stand up straight, he says, so he instead went to St Paul’s Hospital.

Groot says the assault proves that, while same-sex marriage has been legal for over a decade in Canada, homophobia is alive and well.

He says he moved to Vancouver from the small, northern town of Smithers, BC, in order to explore his identity and live openly as a gay man. He came out three years ago at the age of 20.

He says his sense of personal safety and happiness here haven’t changed. “This world is a hurtful place but the most common quote around this time is that ‘love conquers hate,’” Groot says.

“I don’t hold anything against him,” he adds, of the person who allegedly assaulted him. “I just hope that he comes clean and he’s able to serve the time that he needs for what it is.”