Community activists are organizing a march in solidarity with gaybashing victim Jordan Smith for Sun Oct 12, starting at English Bay at 1 pm.
“This is not an angry demonstration,” says co-organizer Jennifer Breakspear, who is also The Centre’s executive director. “This is a joyful celebration of community. This will be a symbol of taking back the streets.”
The purpose of the event, Join Hands for Justice, is also to show that people from across diverse cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds support the queer community, Breakspear adds.
Participants are asked to bring rainbow flags, as well as banners that demonstrate community support and identify their organizations.
Breakspear says the march will move from the beach at Davie and Denman Sts, up Davie to the corner of Hornby where Smith was attacked in the early morning hours of Sep 27.
Smith, 27, was walking along Davie St hand-in-hand with another man when a group of four young men allegedly approached them, according to police.
The men allegedly screamed obscenities about the couple’s sexual orientation, then knocked Smith unconscious with a punch to the head.
Police say Smith fell to the ground at the corner of Davie and Hornby Sts.
They also say they want the incident prosecuted as a hate crime because of the obscenities allegedly uttered before the attack.
Smith underwent surgery Sep 29 to have his jaw, which was broken in three places, wired shut so it could heal.
“I’m not feeling good,” he told Xtra West Oct 1. “I haven’t rested. I haven’t slept in four days. I’m in a lot of pain.”
Vancouver Police Department (VPD) spokesperson Insp John McKay says the situation could have been worse had it not been for the intervention of witnesses who stopped and told the attackers they were calling the police.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this assault was going to continue based on the behavior they all said occurred,” McKay told reporters at a press conference Sep 28.
McKay says the group of alleged attackers fled but was found in an alley a block away.
Michael Kandola, 20, was arrested and taken into police custody. There have been no other arrests related to the incident.
“For someone to assault someone else based on their culture or sexual preference is just unconscionable,” says McKay.
Kandola is now facing an assault charge in connection with the attack on Smith, but police are recommending a more serious charge of aggravated assault.
Kandola first appeared in the new Vancouver Downtown Community Court Sep 29 but his case was subsequently moved to provincial court.
The community court, touted as the first of its kind in Canada and which began hearing cases three weeks ago, was established to assist those involved in crime as a result of having health and social problems, including alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, homelessness and poverty.
Join Hands for Justice march co-organizer and Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva called Kandola’s initial appearance in community court “an insult.”
Queer parks commissioner and NDP MLA hopeful Spencer Herbert agrees.
“The Community Court is not for hate crimes,” he says. “It discredits the Community Court. That blows my mind.”
Kandola, who has short, spiky hair and wore an earring, sat nervously in community court as he waited to be called before the judge moved the case to provincial court.
His lawyer, Danny Markovitz, later told media outside court Sep 30 that his client’s bail conditions include no contact with the victim and staying out of the Davie Village area.
“He’s completely overwhelmed by all the attention he’s getting,” Markovitz said of the accused outside the court.
Crown counsel spokesperson Stan Lowe says the evidence is still being assessed to determine if the simple assault charge against Kandola will be upgraded.
Asked if the Crown will seek a hate crime designation, Lowe explains that if the evidence suggests hatred played a part in the alleged assault, the Crown will introduce that evidence at trial. The Crown would then “invite” the court to consider that hatred as an aggravating factor at sentencing, if the accused is convicted.
According to the Criminal Code of Canada, a person convicted of a crime should get a stiffer sentence if there’s evidence their actions were motivated by “bias, prejudice or hate” based on sexual orientation or other grounds.
The attack on Smith is the latest of a series of incidents over the spring and summer months.
The owner of Flygirl Productions, Leigh Cousins, alleges a man shouted homophobic slurs and then punched her jaw as she was putting up event flyers in the breezeway leading to Little Sister’s bookstore Apr 28. But Cousins told Xtra West in June that police were not pursuing an investigation into the case.
She said police told her witnesses’ statements indicated the incident involved “mutual banter” between her and her alleged assailant, so they weren’t recommending charges.
Then on Aug 2, Khalid Alzghoul, a 31-year-old man, allegedly attacked several people with a hammer in the Davie Village, beginning at the Majestic at the height of this year’s Pride celebrations. He is charged with 17 offences including assault causing bodily harm.
But Vancouver police told Xtra West then that the hammer attacks were not motivated by homophobia and that Alzghoul has a history of mental illness.
On Aug 20, the PumpJack Pub was cleared and closed for a few hours after an unidentified person left a voice message threatening to bomb the popular gay establishment on Davie St. Co-owner Vince Marino says between Aug 17 and 20, the pub received “probably eight to 10 calls,” all anti-gay, and apparently from the same individual.
In recent high-profile gaybashing trials, the Crown has proven reluctant to pursue the hate crime designation.
Crown prosecutors did not ask for a hate crime designation in any of the trials surrounding the 2001 beating death of Aaron Webster in Stanley Park.
Youth court judge Valmond Romilly, however, added the designation himself.
Fourteen months later, BC Supreme Court Justice Mary Humphries repeatedly asked Crown counsel if there was anything else she needed to know prior to sentencing the sole adult convicted in the case, Ryan Cran.
“This is of great public concern,” she said. “Am I missing something?”
“No, you have not missed anything,” Crown counsel Greg Weber replied.
Lowe later told Xtra West that the Crown considered the killer’s motive unclear.
Though Weber listed 11 aggravating factors at sentencing, he did not mention hatred; he never even mentioned Webster was gay at trial.
“I am aware that the death of Aaron Webster has had a significant effect on the gay community,” Humphries ultimately ruled. “However there was no evidence before the court of Mr Webster’s sexual orientation.”
Nor did Crown introduce any evidence to suggest that Cran may have knowingly targeted Webster as a gay man, she added, before concluding that she therefore had no basis to call it a hate crime.
Cran was sentenced to six years in jail for manslaughter.
The Crown also did not seek a hate crime designation at this summer’s sentencing of a Squamish man convicted of assaulting a gay man during Pride weekend 2005 in Davie Village.
The convicted man, Ravinder Toor, and co-accused Randeep Cheema were charged with assault causing bodily harm in connection with the Jul 30, 2005 beating of Russell Young outside the Esso gas station on the corner of Davie and Burrard Sts.
Cheema was subsequently acquitted Feb 12.
Toor received a nine-month, non-jail sentence, to be followed by 12 months of probation. He was sentenced to serve the first three months under house arrest at this parents’ Squamish home.
Deva says he’s watched gaybashings go largely under-punished for years. He says Crown prosecutors aren’t doing all they can in the courts to pursue such designations.
“This is a cookie-cutter hate crime,” alleges Deva, referring to the attack on Smith.
“[The] Crown had better not drop the ball on this one.”
Kandola is scheduled to appear in court again Oct 14.