A panel of three BC Court of Appeal judges has unanimously upheld Shawn Woodward’s hate-designated conviction and six-year jail sentence for assaulting Ritchie Dowrey in Vancouver’s Fountainhead Pub in March 2009.
Woodward sucker-punched Dowrey, knocking him backwards with such force that he struck his head on the hard tile floor. Woodward then stepped over Dowrey’s prone body and walked away. When apprehended outside, Woodward told witnesses that Dowrey deserved it. “He’s a faggot. He deserved it. The faggot touched me. He deserved it.”
Dowrey is still recovering from the serious brain injury he sustained in the assault and is unlikely to ever live independently again.
“I see no other possible explanation for Mr Woodward’s behaviour than virulent homophobia,” provincial court Judge Jocelyn Palmer ruled in passing sentence last November.
Woodward’s lawyer, Joel Whysall, tried to convince the appeal court in April that two to three years would be a more just sentence given his client’s lack of criminal record. He also said his client’s statements outside the pub did not reflect a hate bias. Woodward was motivated not by homophobia but by Dowrey’s attempt to grab his crotch, Whysall said.
Justices David Frankel, Anne Rowles and Edward Chiasson didn’t buy it.
Frankel said Palmer considered all relevant factors and made no errors.
“I can find no basis on which to interfere with the sentencing judge’s decision,” Frankel wrote in dismissing Woodward’s appeal.
Whysall also argued that his client’s intent should not be equated with “bullying, mob-like behaviour” — in his opinion the type of behaviour meant to be more severely punished by the Criminal Code’s sentencing section on hate motivation.
“It’s not like a case where someone is walking down the street holding hands and then some kind of thuggish, mobbish behaviour… set upon him,” he told the appeal panel last month.
What Woodward did “is the very type of conduct he acknowledges is significantly blameworthy and, therefore, deserving of significant denunciation,” Frankel ruled.
“Mr Woodward’s actions were premeditated. He could easily have left the pub without incident,” Frankel added. “He went out of his way to deliver what he intended to be a punishing blow to Mr Dowrey. To put it bluntly, Mr Woodward ‘targeted’ Mr Dowrey because of his perception that Mr Dowrey is gay and then sought to justify what he had done on that basis. Such cannot be viewed as anything other than a significant aggravating factor.”
Frankel also dismissed Whysall’s argument that Palmer placed too much emphasis on Dowrey’s injuries. “While Mr Woodward may not have intended to change Mr Dowrey’s life forever, he did intend to harm him by using force that Mr Woodward knew, or ought to have known, had the potential to inflict serious injury,” Frankel wrote for the panel. “The fact that this was, to use Mr Woodward’s terminology, a ‘one punch assault’ does not lessen the gravity of what he did.”