The man accused of assault in connection with an alleged attack against Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert’s office and assistant says the politician is conducting a media trial against him.
“Mr Chandra Herbert has seized upon this as an opportunity to garnish sympathy and portray himself as a heroic victim of homophobic violence,” Michael Melvin Williams says in a two-page letter dropped off at Xtra’s Davie Street office April 2.
Williams alleges that Chandra Herbert didn’t see the altercation in the office yet tells the story with many details that “get more grotesque with each bold new version.”
“To put it simply, he is lying,” he alleges in the letter.
Williams, 53, of Vancouver is charged with assault and mischief under $5,000. He made his first appearance on the charges in Vancouver Provincial Court April 4. The court heard that Williams does not yet have a lawyer, and it’s not known if he qualifies for legal aid. He has not yet entered a plea.
Williams told Xtra outside the courtroom that it’s his first time dealing with the courts.
Chandra Herbert alleges a man entered his Denman Street office Feb 21, expressed his hatred for the rainbow flag flying in the window and at the Vancouver Public Library branch across the street, punched the office door, then punched Chandra Herbert’s assistant in the face while still uttering homophobic statements.
“He was screaming about ‘faggot flags,’” Chandra Herbert told Xtra at the time. “We called the police and he was arrested.”
Vancouver Police Department (VPD) spokesperson Sergeant Randy Fincham said at the time that a 53-year-old intoxicated man was arrested.
Fincham said they found a man standing on the sidewalk, down the street from the office, and arrested him without incident and took him to jail.
Because of the nature of the allegations, Fincham said, the incident is being investigated by the VPD hate-crimes unit.
Williams, in his letter, disputes Chandra Herbert’s version of the story.
“It’s true I had a pet peeve about a rainbow flag located on the Public Library,” he writes. “It’s been there for years and occupies the place next to the federal and provincial flags in the spot where our municipal government flag would normally be.”
Williams asks what would happen if a public institution took down a government flag and flew one of “some religious sect that started preferential hiring policy and using the public library system as a platform for promoting their views.”
Williams says he just wanted to discuss the issue with his MLA. “It was not in my mind to express hatred or demand he do anything,” he writes.
But, he says, Chandra Herbert’s assistant wouldn’t let him speak to the MLA. When Williams asked to speak to Chandra Herbert about the library flag’s appropriateness, the assistant, Williams alleges, initially told him the MLA wasn’t in.
“I knew this was a lie,” Williams writes, adding he sensed hostility and offered to wait. He alleges the assistant then called him homophobic, asked him to leave and said he would call the police.
Williams writes that he then saw Chandra Herbert and wagged his finger at the assistant, saying, “Pants on fire, pants on fire.”
He alleges the assistant became flustered, came around the counter to the front area of the office and “lunged at me, grabbing my upper left arm with both hands and tried to swing me to the ground.”
Williams writes he shouted at the assistant to let go. “He was so violent in his yanking action that I had bruises all over my upper left arm which my doctor has duly noted,” Williams alleges. “This was not a gentle attempt to ‘shoo’ me out the door but a violent ‘take down.’”
Williams admits a “physical struggle ensues during which we both swung a couple times at each other,” and he has a vague recollection of being knocked into a wall before running out the door. He says the assistant was behind him “in a flash” with Chandra Herbert telling him “to stay put.”
Chandra Herbert tells Xtra he stands by his earlier statements. “This debate should take place in the courts. There’s a reason Williams was charged with assault. I heard what I heard, and I don’t have any further comment.”
Vancouver lawyer Mark Jetté has been appointed by the government as an independent special prosecutor in the case, given Chandra Herbert’s status as an MLA.
Jetté’s mandate includes reviewing the charges and the investigative report done by the VPD and deciding what charges are appropriate; advising the police should further investigation be necessary; reporting the results of his review to the assistant deputy attorney general; and if warranted, continuing the prosecution and subsequent appeals.
Williams will make his next appearance in court on April 25.