DEMAND SWELLS FOR WEBSTER INQUIRY
Egale Canada has added its voice to the chorus demanding a provincial inquiry into the prosecution of the Aaron Webster case.
The call came fast after the Feb 8 sentencing of Ryan Cran to six years in jail for manslaughter-without a hate-crime designation.
“This sentencing decision is proof that the criminal justice system needs a good shake-up!” says Vancouver-based Egale director Tami Starlight. “The circumstances leave no doubt that this [killing] was a hate crime and the justice system seems not to want to recognize this.
“There needs to be an inquiry into how the Crown handled this case.”
Former MP Svend Robinson and Webster’s family also asked BC Attorney General Geoff Plant for an inquiry after Cran’s sentencing.
To the queer community’s dismay, BC Supreme Court Justice Mary Humphries did not add a hate crime designation when she sentenced Cran last month. She said there was no evidence before her to warrant it.
Of the other three people charged in the case, two youths pleaded guilty while Danny Rao was acquitted. Youth court judge Valmond Romilly ruled the first youth’s actions were hate-motivated and designated his offence a hate crime in December 2003-even though the prosecutor did not ask for such a designation.
Doug Janoff, author of a forthcoming book on violence against gay people, says hate motivation is frequently ignored by the Crown.
Meanwhile, Jim Deva says plans are moving forward with the help of the Canadian Jewish Congress to create a symposium on hate crimes, the laws and their applications. “We’d bring in legislators, our community’s best lawyers and advocates and sit down and work through this,” he says. The purpose would be to draft a paper with suggestions on how the system might be improved and made more effective.
Deva is open to suggestions. Contact him at Little Sister’s.
NIXON BACK IN COURT
Kimberly Nixon is heading back to court Mar 7, this time to appeal the BC Supreme Court’s December 2003 decision against her. The December decision overturned an earlier BC Human Rights Tribunal ruling which gave Nixon the highest-ever award for discrimination damages BC had ever seen.
The case stems from a complaint Nixon, a post-operative male-to-female transsexual, filed against Vancouver Rape Relief in 1995. Nixon said the rape counselling centre kicked her out of its training program simply because she is trans. Rape Relief didn’t dispute the allegations. Instead, it argued that women’s groups have every right to set their own membership criteria-and to exclude transsexuals if they don’t measure up.
The tribunal disagreed and ruled that Rape Relief discriminated against Nixon when it rejected her. Then it ordered the centre to pay Nixon $7,000 in damages.
Rape Relief asked the BC Supreme Court for a judicial review. The court sided with Rape Relief and quashed the tribunal’s decision. The tribunal was wrong to call this a case of discrimination, Justice E Robert Edwards ruled. Rape Relief has every right to say who counts as a woman for the purposes of joining its group. Plus, he said, the tribunal used too lenient a discrimination test.
Rape Relief was relieved. The decision confirms that women have a right to organize with their peers, Suzanne Jay said at the time.
Nixon’s lawyer, barbara findlay, was angry. What this case really comes down to is who gets to decide who counts as a woman, she said. Should it be Rape Relief, the state or the woman herself?
Nixon and Rape Relief will square off again Mar 7-9, this time in BC’s Court of Appeal as Nixon asks the judges to reconsider Edwards’ findings.
MENINGITIS VACCINE WORKS
The BC Centre for Disease Control reports no new meningitis cases among gay men since its vaccination campaign began last December. Health officials estimate they administered about 8,000 free vaccines to gay and bisexual men across BC. The centre launched the campaign after recording seven cases of meningococcal C among gay men late last year-an unusually high number. Three of the cases proved fatal. The centre says it will continue to monitor new cases of meningitis and notify the gay community if an increased risk re-surfaces. Gay and bisexual men can still get a free meningitis vaccine in clinics throughout BC while supplies last.