Twenty-one-year-old Mark Edwards was doing what he does most weekend nights in Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island. He and his friend Julie Livingstone were at the Riverside Pub playing pool, having a couple beers and occasionally stepping outside to have a smoke.
“We knew the bartender. It’s local. We’d go play pool, listen to the jukebox. It was pretty dead, pretty quiet town,” says Edwards, who says he was on his way out of the pub for a last cigarette before heading home when he crossed paths with a young man —an elementary school acquaintance, whom Edwards alleges never liked him “because I was gay.”
“He made a snarled comment like ‘fag,’ Edwards alleges. “I was like, ‘I’m sorry.’
“I was saying sorry because he is my good friend’s baby’s daddy, a girl I grew up with. And I was like, ‘I’m so sorry [about what’s] going on between you guys, you know,'” explains Edwards, who says the couple has been having problems.
It was at this point that the man allegedly threatened to kill Edwards.
“He was like, ‘stay away from me, you fuckin’ fag! Don’t fuckin’ look me in the eye, ’cause I’ll fuckin’ kill you,'” Edwards alleges.
“And I was like, ‘I’m sorry,’ just with my hands up, backing away. Like, ‘I’m sorry, you know, calm down, I’m not trying to start anything.'”
Edwards says he thought that was the end of it and headed for the parking lot, but once there, things took a turn for the worse.
After agreeing to give another friend and his two buddies a ride home, Edwards, who had already strapped himself in on the driver’s side of his jeep, realized that the buddies heading towards his car were none other than his elementary school acquaintance and his father.
Livingstone, by then seated next to Edwards in the passenger seat, objected to letting the two into the car and urged Edwards to ask the son to apologize for the threats he allegedly made earlier in the bar.
When father and son entered the car, Edwards said he wasn’t going anywhere until he got an apology. But before he could get that sentence out, he alleges the father attacked him from behind while his son allegedly punched and kicked him on the right.
“His dad started choking me from behind. [The son] started punching me in the side of the head and in the back of the head and kicking me in the head. And then Julie was hit and kicked because she was trying to get [the father] to stop strangling me,” Edwards alleges.
“I’m tall, so I have my seat leaned back pretty far. With the doors open, he’s using the car to lift himself up to kick me in the head and kick me in the back,” Edwards further alleges. “Julie got the father’s hands off me and then that’s when he started punching me and kicking me in the head. I’m still seat belted in, and it just all happened so fast.”
All the while, Edwards says he remembers hearing “You fuckin’ fag, I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you” repeated over and over.
Livingstone confirms Edwards’ account of the alleged attack. She too alleges the son called her friend a faggot “and a bunch of uncalled for remarks” after Edwards asked for an apology.
“[The father] grabbed the back of Mark’s neck out of nowhere, for no reason, and started choking him, and at this point, Mark was in his seat belt and couldn’t move. So I grabbed his arm and pulled him off of Mark, and he was punching and hitting. [The son] was kicking at the vehicle and kicking at me and hitting me,” Livingstone alleges.
“Thankfully my vehicle was on,” says Edwards. “I just pushed on the gas, and with both doors open they shut when I started driving away.”
Sitting in his car, about 3 kilometres away from the site of the alleged attack, Edwards says he was not keen to go to the police —despite having what would later be diagnosed as a concussion, a sprained and bruised neck, and bleeding from his right ear.
“I didn’t want to because I’ve charged kids in this town before [for] beating me up and only one charge [stuck],” Edwards claims. “Because the kid admitted to it, it went through. It didn’t even go to court. His cousin beat me up after that because I charged his cousin. I charged him. When we went to court the judge threw it out of court, and ruled it boys being boys, even though this guy is older than me. So I have little to no faith in the so-called protection of my human rights with RCMP, so I did not want to call them,” Edwards says.
Livingstone says she finally convinced her friend to go back to the bar and call the police.
“I wanted him to file a report, but he had been scared because things like this in the past had been dropped, and it just got him in more trouble than anything,” says Livingstone who, along with Edwards, ended up giving a statement to RCMP Consts Butler and Nyberg back at the Riverside Pub.
When Xtra West contacted Const Nyberg about the attack, he said the son had been arrested and “there will likely be some recommendation for charges.”
Nyberg refused to name the son, specify the nature of the charges, or say whether the incident would be investigated as a hate crime.
He also refused to comment on whether the father would be arrested.
“That’s part of our investigation and I can’t really reveal [that] to you,” he said.
“Until information is laid we don’t release anybody’s information, like personal information,” he explained. “So at this time I’m not going to confirm anything because they have a right to privacy until such time as the charges or the information is sworn.”
Edwards alleges Nyberg told him the son, on being picked up for questioning, said, “he did it because I was a fag and he does not like fags.”
But the RCMP is not pursuing it as a hate crime, Edwards alleges, “because they’re just words. Butler told me Crown Counsel wouldn’t approve this as a hate crime if it went to court because [the son] and his father did not go out specifically looking to beat up a gay person.”
Section 718 of Canada’s Criminal Code says people convicted of an offence “motivated by bias, prejudice or hate” based on sexual orientation or other grounds should get a stiffer sentence. The section makes no mention of premeditated intent.
“I can’t really comment, unfortunately, until any kind of decision is made by Crown on a file,” says Crown spokesperson Neil MacKenzie when asked if any charges had been brought against the two men and whether the incident is being investigated as a hate crime.
“We can’t comment on whether any charges have been laid or not laid. At this point, all I can say is there hasn’t been any charge laid yet in connection with the incident.”
In the meantime, Edwards says he’s keeping a low profile.
“I won’t go out anywhere in town. I drive everywhere. I will not leave the house without a friend or my boyfriend. Before this time, I was out everywhere. Ask any of my friends. I’m the morning, afternoon and evening person. [This has] changed who I am, which I hate. I want to be strong, but I’m afraid.”