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MITCHELL DENOUNCES HARPER. Gay former Conservative candidate Gary Mitchell took issue with his party leader's anti-gay marriage campaign, Jan 21. He reportedly told the Vancouver Sun he's concerned that Stephen Harper is turning the Conservatives into a "rural party." Credit: Xtra West files

YOUTH DENIED EARLY RELEASE



The first youth to be sentenced for manslaughter in the November 2001 beating death of Aaron Webster will stay in jail for another year, a youth court judge ruled Jan 18.



The youth was sentenced in December 2003 to two years in jail and a year of conditional release. He became automatically eligible for a mandatory sentence review after his first year in custody.



Judge Valmond Romilly, who imposed the original sentence, rejected the youth’s application for early release into the community, saying it would be “scandalous and perverse to do so.”



He said the youth and his cohorts “committed a savage and vicious act” and that “it would make a mockery of justice for this court to interfere with a sentence which was intended to hold [the youth] accountable for this heinous crime.”



Romilly pointed out that the youth escaped an adult sentence by making a deal with the Crown to testify in the manslaughter trial of Ryan Cran and Danny Rao which took place late last year.



He noted that in Justice Mary Humphries’ conviction of Cran-and concurrent acquittal of Rao-she said the testimony of the youth was “fraught with difficulty and is worthy of little weight.”



Romilly said it was not his intention in the original sentence that the youth “should be allowed to return to court one year later stating how remorseful and guilt-ridden he feels and request that his sentence should be further lightened because he has been a ‘good boy’ all year and really wants to attend BCIT.”



Romilly also noted that it had been his intent in passing sentence that the youth be moved to an adult facility when he turned 20. That did not happen.



“One cannot help but conclude that [the youth], despite his horrible crime, seems to be leading a rather charmed life,” Romilly ruled.



Romilly’s decision brought shouts of approval and applause from gay community members who attended the hearing.



* Jeremy Hainsworth



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SAFE STREETS MEAN FINES



The BC Liberals’ hotly contested Safe Streets Act finally came into effect Jan 27, after some debate about how it was going to be practically enforced. The bill passed its final reading last October, but Attorney General Geoff Plant had to delay its implementation because he wasn’t sure how to enforce it. Now, it seems, he’s ironed out the bugs.



The act, inspired by gay MLA Lorne Mayencourt’s private member’s bill of the same name, aims to outlaw “aggressive solicitation” on BC streets and punish panhandlers and squeegee kids for approaching people for cash. The newly decided punishment: fines starting at $86 and climbing to $115, and possibly even jail for repeat offenders.



“Not having money has never been an excuse for breaking the law,” Plant reportedly told the Vancouver Sun, Jan 28. “My suggestion to people who don’t have enough money is that they should obey the law.



“If someone is a persistent and flagrant violator of this law, they may well end up spending time in jail,” he added, “and I’m not sure that that would be a bad thing.”



The BC Civil Liberties Association is just one of several groups speaking out against the new act. They say it targets the vulnerable and is really just a way to sweep poor people off the streets.



But Mayencourt told the Sun he thinks his government is doing a good job of looking after vulnerable people. He pointed to recent re-investments in affordable housing and other programs for the homeless and mentally ill. “This is a pretty generous place,” he reportedly said. “We look after our vulnerable pretty well, and what we expect in return is to be able to walk down our streets safely.”





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ACCIDENTAL PEEP SHOWS OKAY



Last week the Supreme Court of Canada sided with wankers across the country, ruling that masturbating in your own home is fine, even if the neighbours can see you.



Back in 2000, Daryl Milland Clark of Nanaimo “was observed masturbating near the uncovered window of his illuminated living room by neighbours from the privacy of their darkened bedroom, across contiguous backyards, from a distance of 90 to 150 feet,” the Jan 27 ruling states.



Though the neighbour, referred to as Mrs S, claimed she “didn’t really see anything untoward other than some movement,” she ran to her darkened bedroom to get a better look and then summoned her husband.



After watching Clark for 10 to 15 minutes, part of the time with binoculars and a telescope, Mr and Mrs S finally concluded Clark was masturbating and expressed concern to one another that Clark was “masturbating to our children.” The offended parties tried unsuccessfully to videotape Clark and then called the police.



Clark was charged and convicted on two counts of willfully committing an indecent act (a) in a public place in the presence of one or more persons and (b) in any place, with “intent thereby to insult or offend any person.”



Though there was no evidence that Clark was intending to insult or offend-or that he even knew he was being observed-he was convicted on the first count because the trial judge found that he had, by keeping his light on, converted his home into a public place.



The conviction was upheld by the BC Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court of Canada found that both the lower courts erred. Writing for the unanimous majority, Justice Morris Fish wrote that “public place” means a place where the public has actual physical access, not just visual access.



“The living room of his private home was not a place ‘to which the public [had] access as of right or by invitation, express or implied,'” wrote Fish. “From both the text and the context, it seems obvious to me that ‘access,’ as used here, means ‘the right or opportunity to reach or use or visit.'”



* Paul Gallant



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MARRIAGE BATTLE OVERHEATING



As Xtra West goes to press, the federal government is introducing its same-sex marriage bill, and tension is bubbling over on numerous fronts. First there were the Catholic bishops and other church leaders, who have been warning parishioners and politicians alike that supporting gay marriage is scandalous to the church.



Then there’s Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper, who made headlines Jan 21 with his assertion that he expects to win votes from urban immigrant communities for his stand against gay marriage. Many pro-gay-marriage ethnic groups were none too pleased with that one. The National Anti-Racism Council of Canada promptly called on Harper to leave ethnic communities out of his bid to deny gays and lesbians access to marriage.



Even some members of Harper’s own party have denounced his campaign.



Former gay Conservative candidate Gary Mitchell, who ran unsuccessfully against Liberal Hedy Fry in the last federal election, expressed concern to the Vancouver Sun that Harper was turning the Conservatives into a “rural party” and alienating voters. “In order to acquire support in key urban centresÂ… Mr Harper should avoid creating even more divisiveness on certain social issues, such as same-sex marriage,” he reportedly said. “He needs to carefully pick his battles, and this is a losing one.”



Despite all the uproar, most observers say the Liberals’ marriage bill should pass.