3 min

Gay man charged, bashers not

Crown more concerned about gay man's self-defence

Credit: Robin Perelle

A gay man charged for throwing a fire extinguisher into a limousine to keep his alleged bashers on the scene won’t have to go to trial after all.

The BC Crown stayed its charge against Jack Copeland last month. It never even charged his alleged bashers.

Copeland’s brush with the law began two summers ago, when he and a friend cut across the Esso parking lot at Davie and Burrard on their way home from the Odyssey, Aug 31, 2002. As they neared the alley, a limo pulled up alongside them and its occupants started yelling homophobic slurs. When Copeland challenged them to “get out and say it to my face,” one of the young occupants allegedly spat at him. Copeland spat back.

That’s when about seven young men spilled out of the car and surrounded him. Hurling more homophobic slurs, they allegedly began shoving him; one of them allegedly punched him in the face. Copeland fell to the ground. His alleged attackers piled back into the limo and told the driver to leave.

Alarmed, Copeland rushed to the driver’s side window and ordered the driver to remain at the scene. A crime has been committed here, he says he told the man; “you have an obligation to stay.” The driver allegedly smirked at him and began to pull away.

Copeland didn’t give up. He warned the driver that if he continued to pull away, he’d throw a fire extinguisher through the window to keep him on the scene (the police were already on their way). The driver ignored him and tried again to pull away. Copeland threw the extinguisher.

“In the heat of the moment it was the only way I could think of to make the vehicle stop.” It could have hurt someone, he acknowledges now, adding that he’s “a bit embarrassed” by his actions. But, he emphasizes, he just had to keep his attackers on the scene. They committed a crime, he repeats. “You have to be accountable for what you’ve done.”

About a month after the incident, the Crown charged Copeland with mischief for throwing the fire extinguisher at the limo. It did not charge any of Copeland’s alleged aggressors-despite a police inspector’s recommendation that they not only charge them but treat the incident as a hate crime.

Copeland says he was reluctant to tie up the court’s time fighting his charge but he couldn’t just accept it. “I did not start this,” he says. “This is my community, my home. Somebody came into this neighbourhood to cause trouble. It’s really important for us to stand up for ourselves.”

Last month-just three days before his trial was finally set to begin-the Crown stayed its charge against Copeland.

When asked why Copeland was charged at all, Crown spokesperson Geoffrey Gaul says he and his colleagues measure all potential charges against their likelihood of conviction and their contribution to the public interest. The Crown assigned to this case must have judged Copeland’s charge to be both winnable and worth pursuing, Gaul says.

When asked why the Crown has now stayed Copeland’s charge, Gaul says the Crown regularly reassesses cases to see if they’re still worth pursuing, especially if the process is taking awhile. (In this case, the matter was supposed to go to trial earlier but Copeland requested extra time to prepare.)

“This matter was getting old,” Gaul says. “The Crown assessed all of the evidence and circumstances and determined that the public interest did not require a prosecution. In light of that conclusion, the matter was stayed.”

As for Copeland’s alleged attackers, Gaul says the Crown didn’t charge anyone else in the case because there wasn’t enough evidence to get a conviction. “All I can say is, we look at all of the evidence and all of the circumstances” when assessing potential charges.

Copeland says he understands that the Crown can only pursue cases it’s likely to win, but he’s disappointed it didn’t press any charges against his bashers. It sends the wrong message, he says. “When people do things like this and get away with it, it just encourages them to act that way again in the future.

“It’s very important that people don’t see us as a place for target practice,” he adds.

At the end of the day, he says, he’s left with the impression that the Crown was more interested in the damage he caused to the vehicle than the fact that he was attacked.