Vancouver
7 min

He started it

But gaybashing victim says he didn't deserve what happened next

A NIGHT IN THE DRUNK TANK. Aaron McNeil caught a cab to Davie St after a night of partying. He was going to spend the night at a friend's place but ended up in a fight and jail. He's not happy with his treatment. Credit: Robin Perelle

Aaron McNeil openly admits that he instigated the incident that led to his gaybashing.



It all started around 2 am Monday, Mar 29. McNeil, a 20-year-old gay man from Surrey, was downtown partying with his friends at Shine’s weekly gay night in Gastown.



When the club closed, he caught a cab to Davie St, planning to spend the night at a nearby friend’s place. He didn’t make it there until morning.



McNeil says he was having a cigarette in front of Denny’s on Davie when two women walked by on the opposite side of the street, heading towards Characters. The women were blonde, McNeil says, and they were wearing “matching little outfits. I thought it was tacky.”



He started singing to them in a mocking tone, projecting the words “because I’m a blonde, yeah, yeah, yeah” across the street.



“That was my bad,” he says now, nursing a black, blood-filled eye.



“I can admit when I’m wrong,” he continues. “Sometimes I can be stupid. My mouth gets me in trouble, especially when I’ve been drinking.” McNeil says he had about seven beers that night, over a period spanning about seven hours.



Realizing the error of his ways, McNeil says he promptly crossed the street to apologize to the women. But things didn’t go quite as planned, and the encounter soon escalated into physical violence.



McNeil says he began by apologizing to the women. “They replied, ‘you had no right,’ and I agreed: I had no right.”



Then the women started to insult him, McNeil says. “They said, ‘You couldn’t get with a woman, you’re too ugly.'” They, too, had been drinking, McNeil surmises.



McNeil started to get mad. “I’m gay,” he says he told them, adding that he wouldn’t want a woman anyway.



That’s when the women turned hostile and started calling him a faggot, McNeil says. And that “riled” him.



“I’m from Surrey,” he explains, noting that he’s only out to his parents and a few friends and he isn’t used to being called a faggot.



A shouting match ensued as both parties traded more insults, and the whole encounter escalated.



Then one of the women slapped him, McNeil alleges. He tried to laugh it off, he says, but the other woman tried to kick him, too, and then a third woman joined the scene. She slapped him, too, McNeil alleges. That’s when he says he spat at her.



“I’m not going to hit a girl,” he says, explaining why he spat at her. “I don’t hit women.”



The level of violence continued to escalate. One of the women picked up a metal chair from the nearby Characters’ patio and threw it at McNeil, he alleges. He caught it and threw it back, hitting the ground near her feet. “I was furious by then,” he says.



That’s when an unknown man allegedly ran onto the scene and grabbed McNeil. “He choke-slammed me to the ground,” McNeil alleges. “He was choking me on the ground and punching me in the face” and saying something about not messing with his girls.



Though his memory gets a bit hazy after the head punch, McNeil says the woman who threw the chair at him approached him on the ground, called him a faggot and kicked him while he was down.



Then someone pulled the man off him and McNeil looked down at his hands. “They were just covered in blood,” he says. “I had blood all over my jeans and my shirt.”



**

At that point McNeil had a choice to make: whether or not to call the police. He decided to call them.



This is where the story takes an ambiguous turn. Though there are common points between McNeil’s recollection of what happened next and the police report, there are also some significant differences.



McNeil is unhappy with the way police treated him at the scene. He says they didn’t treat the incident like a gaybashing and instead put him in handcuffs and sent him to the drunk tank and let the women go.



The police treated him “like a criminal,” McNeil says.



Insp Val Harrison, now head of the Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) West End contingent, says as far as she can tell, McNeil gave no indication to the officers that it might have been a gaybashing at the scene.



Though Harrison wasn’t there that night, she has read the officers’ report. It makes no mention of the women calling McNeil a faggot prior to slapping him. In fact, Harrison says, the report concludes, based on the testimony of an independent witness, that McNeil crossed the street, became verbally abusive towards the women and spat at them, and that the violence grew from there.



Those facts don’t suggest a gaybashing, Harrison says. It sounds more like McNeil was the one causing the problem. Or at least, it sounds like “everybody was drunk, everybody was behaving badly and it got out of hand,” she speculates.



The officers did, however, add a note to the report after speaking with McNeil the next evening. The note says the victim now sees the incident as a hate-motivated gaybashing.



McNeil admits that he did not tell the officers it was a gaybashing at the scene. He says he did, however, identify himself as a gay man and tell the police about the women calling him a faggot.



He says he wishes now that police had picked up on that and asked him if it was a gaybashing then because, he says, when there’s hate involved it’s a different story. And it needs to be approached differently.



Harrison says it’s standard practice for officers to take statements at the scene and piece together the facts of the case. And if there is an apparent hate motivation, they check off a box on their report. But they don’t have to mention their notation to the victim.



Officers shouldn’t need to explicitly ask whether it’s a gaybashing once the victim says he was attacked for being gay, Harrison says; that’s redundant.



“But if they [members of the gay community] are saying they want some kind of confirmation that the officers get that it’s a gaybashing” the VPD can look into that, she adds. “Maybe we need to do some kind of training around that.”



But that doesn’t seem to be the case here, she reiterates. It doesn’t look like McNeil said anything to suggest to the officers that the women attacked him because he is gay.



In fact, Harrison continues, as far as she can tell, the only time McNeil mentioned his sexuality on the scene was when he told the officer putting him in handcuffs that he might have AIDS.



According to the police report, McNeil told the officer: “You better watch out, I may have AIDS.”



The officer reportedly tried to clarify, asking McNeil, “Well, do you?”



McNeil allegedly replied: “Well, I’m gay, so I must have AIDS.”



McNeil confirms the whole exchange. He was mouthing off again and being “stupid,” he admits, noting that he felt insulted when the officer jumped back at the mention of AIDS. Of course, he was covered in blood, McNeil acknowledges.



That would present a legitimate safety concern for any officer, Harrison says.



Still, McNeil wants to know why the officers didn’t send the women to the drunk tank with him or pursue the unknown man.



First of all, says Harrison, they couldn’t pursue the man because nobody offered them a description of him. The report just says “unknown male” which suggests the officers would not have known whom to chase.



As to why McNeil was the one police sent to the drunk tank, Harrison says she trusts her officers’ ability to evaluate who is drunk and who is potentially posing a risk at the scene.



Both McNeil’s account and the police report suggest he was being confrontational with the officers.



But McNeil still doesn’t feel he got justice. And he regrets calling the cops for help.



“I tried to do the right thing,” he says, pointing to his attempt to apologize to the women. Yet he’s the one the officers arrested and put in the drunk tank.



**

McNeil also has concerns about his experience in the drunk tank later that night.



“They put me in this room. It was really gross” with traces of dried blood on the wall, he recalls.



McNeil says he kept banging on the door, asking the jail staff to let him call his parents and see a doctor, but they refused both requests.



Harrison points out that the VPD no longer operates Vancouver’s jails; BC Corrections staff do. But, she notes, the staff would have been told that an ambulance attendant had checked McNeil’s injuries at the scene and concluded that he didn’t need any more immediate medical attention.



McNeil isn’t satisfied. His face continued to swell through the night, he says. “I just wanted an ice pack-anything that would bring down the swelling.”



Harrison says it can be dangerous to give people in the drunk tank objects such as ice packs because they can use them to start fights with each other in the tank.



A spokesperson for BC Corrections says he can’t comment on the specifics of this case because of McNeil’s right to privacy. But it is standard policy to give incoming inmates a medical assessment, says Bill Young, regardless of what care they may have received at the scene.



McNeil says he got no such assessment.



Young encourages McNeil to call the office responsible for overseeing BC Corrections (at 250.387.5948) if he has any concerns or complaints about his stay in the drunk tank.



As for staff’s refusal to allow McNeil to call his parents, Young says staff can, as a general rule, give individuals access to a phone once they’re sober and “compliant” and no longer pose a risk to themselves or others.



McNeil also says staff at the jail were rude to him. At one point, he says, when he was banging on the door asking for a doctor, an officer allegedly told him that he can’t “fucking” see a doctor and that if he keeps “fucking hitting this door, we won’t fucking let you out.”



Though Young won’t comment on the specifics of the case, he says he’s confident that “our staff is pretty professional.”



Harrison doesn’t condone the alleged use of “the F-word” but points out that jails are often tense places.



Overall, she says, she hopes this case does not send gays and lesbians the message that they shouldn’t call the police when they’ve been bashed. On the contrary, she stresses, they should. But people who call the police should also be prepared for officers to investigate all aspects of the case, she notes.



McNeil says he’s still “blown away” by the whole event and his brush with the law.



“I’m angry about it,” he says. “Just the whole situation is kind of messed up. I think the cops could have handled it a hell of a lot better.”



No one has been charged in connection with this case.