On Oct 22, Crown prosecutor Jacinta Lawton suggested Shawn Woodward’s attack on Ritchie Dowrey at Vancouver’s Fountainhead Pub be declared a hate crime.
On Nov 8, Vancouver Provincial Court Judge Jocelyn Palmer agreed.
“I see no other possible explanation for Mr Woodward’s behaviour than virulent homophobia,” Palmer said, sentencing Woodward to six years in prison.
Palmer ruled that the crime fit the hate-crime criteria set out by BC Supreme Court Justice Joel Groves when he found Michael Kandola guilty of a hate crime in the 2008 assault on Jordan Smith.
Smith was walking hand in hand with his boyfriend on Davie St when Kandola called him a “faggot” and sucker punched him.
Palmer described Woodward’s punch as a sucker punch as well, albeit a “catastrophic” one.
“The force of the punch knocked Mr Dowrey out on impact,” Palmer said. “It was intended to be punishing.”
Woodward also repeatedly uttered homophobic remarks after knocking Dowrey unconscious, saying he was a “faggot, he deserved it.”
Palmer called Woodward’s words “despicable” and said he used excessive violence.
In ruling Kandola’s attack a hate crime in April, Groves said the Crown needed to prove homophobic language was used before, during or after the assault; that the attack occurred in a gay area; and that there was no previous interaction between the parties.
“I find these factors fit that framework,” Palmer ruled.
“There has never been before this court a single expression of remorse for what happened to Mr Dowrey,” she added, later calling Woodward a “man of flawed character.”
Woodward was handcuffed and led away by sheriffs as a gallery packed with members of Dowrey’s family, friends, members of the gay community and media looked on.
The sentencing in Vancouver Province Court brings to a close part of the tragic tale that began March 13, 2009, when Woodward delivered a single blow to Dowrey’s head in the Davie St gay bar.
“It is tragic that on the day he was celebrating his retirement, all of his future plans were cancelled by a punch from Mr Woodward,” Palmer said.
The former stockbroker now lives in a Langley care home. He will never be able to live independently again.
Dowrey had been anticipating a change in his life when he went to The Fountainhead that night to celebrate his retirement.
What he didn’t expect was Woodward’s punch, which left him, as brother Allan Dowrey has said, “in storage.”
The assault left the gay community in shock, more so because it happened in a gay space where people had thought they were safe.
Woodward had claimed self-defence in the case, accusing Dowrey of coming on to him and touching his crotch.
Palmer didn’t buy it.
“I find Mr Woodward to be devoid of credibility in his allegations of sexual assault,” Palmer said, dismissing the possibility that Woodward was provoked.
Woodward was angry at what he perceived as Dowrey’s advances, Palmer ruled. He went out of his way to approach Dowrey as he left the pub, “drove his fist into his face,” then stepped over his prone body with “utter disregard for Mr Dowrey’s humanity.”
Dowrey’s family would not comment on the sentence.
Lawton had asked for six to seven years in prison, while Woodward’s lawyer, Joel Whysall, suggested two years.
Whysall had no comment on the sentence.
Whysall had told Palmer at the sentencing hearing that Woodward’s attack was a spontaneous reaction “not borne of a deep-seated hatred of homosexuals.”
“In my opinion, Mr Woodward did not single out Mr Dowrey because of his sexual orientation,” Whysall said. “He did not attend The Fountainhead Pub for the purpose of attacking a homosexual.”
Even if his assault on Dowrey revealed hostility that came as a surprise to him, Woodward has yet to take responsibility for his actions and show any real remorse, Palmer ruled.
Lyndsay Wincherauk was the man who first caught Woodward outside the pub and first heard Woodward say, “He’s a faggot. He deserved it. The faggot touched me. He deserved it.”
Wincherauk says he is satisfied with Palmer’s decision.
“I think it sends a strong message and allows the family to have a bit of peace,” he says.
“I felt a little nauseous. I’d like to feel sorry for Woodward and the people he knows, but the lack of remorse subtracted that,” he adds.
Qmunity executive director Jennifer Breakspear says the sentence is an indication that the justice system is listening to the queer community and its abhorrence for homophobic attacks.
“Hate crime really truly does instill terror in an entire community,” she says. “Hate and violence against our community will not be tolerated.”
Breakspear says the ruling sends a strong message. The Crown sought a hate crime designation and the judge heard, she says. “Those are important messages for our community, who felt for so long we didn’t have a voice, we didn’t have a champion.”
“Virulent homophobia,” says Ron Stipp of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere, repeating the judge’s words.
“It’s sad that it comes down to this, but I guess if there’s justice, it was served today,” he says.