May 5, 2003: Three young men accused of bashing a group of dykes and
another woman in Gastown file quietly into courtroom 74 in BC Supreme
Court. Day one of Vancouver’s first local gay-bashing trial in recent
memory has begun.
Crown counsel Anne Clark brings the courtroom back to a Flygirl dance
at 7 Alexander on Jul 28, 2001. The bars were just closing when
Dalvinder Singh Khabra, Najwinder Singh Nangal and Sukhdeep Khela
started yelling “dyke” and “butch” at a group of lesbians leaving the
dance. “Why don’t you dress like a girl?” they asked, as they began to
follow the women.
Then Khabra kicked one of the dykes in the elbow. She and her friends
kept walking, trying not to engage.
So the men turned their attention to another group of people, this time
leaving Sonar. “Are you a fag?” they yelled at several men.
“We hate fags! We want to kill fags!” One of them added that he
wouldn’t mind hitting a woman, either.
Then they zeroed in on their prey.
A young woman (whose name cannot be published) was standing in front of
a nearby bank machine holding up her friend who had just fainted from a
blood sugar problem. Khabra, Nangal, Khela, and a fourth man whose
charges were later stayed, approached. “Hey baby,” they said as they
formed a semi-circle around her.
Khabra allegedly grabbed her breast. The woman, who is only 5 feet tall
and 100 pounds, kicked out in self-defence and jumped on one of her
intimidators’ backs. They both fell to the ground.
She tried to stand up. Nangal, about a foot taller and outweighing her
by about 100 pounds, punched her in the face. She fell back down and
the men closed in, punching her and kicking her in the head repeatedly
until police arrived.
“That’s the image I’ll always remember,” Vancouver Sgt Tony Zanatta
later told Xtra West in an interview. “Her head snapping forward.”
Zanatta pulled up in his cruiser that night just as Khela pulled back
his foot, soccer-style, and kicked the woman so hard her head snapped
forward. Then he did it again.
“That’s how people die,” Zanatta says. “If the second kick had landed
instead of glancing off That’s how people die.”
Zanatta jumped out of his car and plunged in without waiting for
back-up. Despite Nangal’s attempts to obstruct him, Zanatta managed to
pull the men off the woman and subdue some of them, while radioing for
help arresting the others. He later won an award from the Lieutenant
Governor for his courage that night.
Khela, Khabra and Nangal were all charged with assault causing bodily
harm. Police also charged Khabra and Nangal with obstructing an
officer, and Khabra with sexual assault and simple assault for kicking
the dyke in the first group (whose name can’t be published, either).
“How do you plead?” Justice Carol Ross asked each man after she read
“Guilty,” they all replied to count one, assault causing bodily harm.
And with that, Vancouver’s first gay-bashing trial in recent memory
took an unexpected turn. The lawyers had originally scheduled a
two-week trial, with the Crown planning to call more than a dozen
witnesses. Suddenly, that battle was no longer necessary; the men had
pleaded guilty to the main charge.
Nangal then pleaded guilty to obstructing a police officer, as well,
and Khabra pleaded guilty to simple assault. The Crown stayed its
remaining charges against Khabra for sexual assault and obstructing a
Then came the second big question of the day: now that the men had
pleaded guilty, would the judge recognize the assault as homophobic and
give them stiffer sentences? (Section 718 of the Criminal Code says a
judge can give someone a stiffer sentence if the crime was motivated by
hate based on race, sexual orientation or a handful of other
identifiable features; in other words, if the court can prove that it
was a “hate crime.”)
“This crime has been motivated by hatred for an identifiable group,”
Crown counsel Clark tells the court, adding that many of the witnesses
“have real concerns about the homophobic” nature of the crime.
This was an unprovoked attack, she continues. The court’s sentence must
“bring home the seriousness of the crime and the outrage of the
community over the homophobic remarks.”
And the judge agrees.
The circumstances of this crime were “despicable,” Justice Ross tells
the court. “This is conduct that calls for denunciation in the
She then follows the Crown’s suggestions and sentences Nangal and Khela
to 18-month conditional sentences, the first eight months of which will
be house arrest.
That means the men won’t go to jail, but they will serve official
sentences in their homes, report to a supervisor, follow a curfew,
perform 150 hours of community service, stay away from nightclubs,
refrain from drinking alcohol and get counselling.
It also means they’ll be completely confined to their Surrey homes
(located at 6915 128 St and 7315 148 St, respectively) for the first
eight months of their sentences, and allowed to leave only for work,
school, religious services and medical appointments.
Khabra, the youngest of the three, got a 12-month conditional sentence,
the first six months of which he’ll be under house arrest at his home,
at 7245 158 St in Surrey.
Justice Ross says she went with conditional sentences in this case
because they balance the need for denunciation with the attackers’
youth (they’re all 21-22 years old), their employment and their lack of
adult criminal records (though Khela does have a youth record with some
A conditional sentence may seem light but it’s not, Allyson Lunny, an
out lesbian writing her PhD on hate crimes at the University of
Toronto, later tells Xtra West. In fact, she says, compared to other
sentences in similar gay-bashing cases, these men got fairly stiff
Most convicted gay-bashers just get community work, Lunny explains.
Khabra and his friends got house arrest.
“From a legal standpoint it definitely does send a strong message, and
I think it’s just,” she says, noting that courts have been moving away
from jail sentences towards rehabilitation in recent years.
Zanatta doesn’t like to talk about sentencing, but he says he’s really
glad so many witnesses came forward to help with this case. People from
the gay community, in particular, were “super cooperative,” he says.
They stuck around that night to give statements to the police and then
followed through in every stage of the court process. They made a real
difference, he says.
As for the woman who got kicked in the head, she says her injuries have
healed, her panic attacks have subsided and she’s now ready to move on
with her life.