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Man found guilty in gay MLA office assault in Vancouver

Judge finds insufficient evidence of anti-gay motive

Michael Melvin Williams was found guilty of assault on Jan 15 for attacking a gay MLA’s office staffer.  Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth

Michael Melvin Williams, the man accused of mischief and assault in the Feb 21, 2014, attack at Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert’s office, was found guilty of assault and handed a suspended sentence and one year’s probation by a provincial court judge Jan 15.

“The evidence clearly indicates Mr [Murray] Bilida was injured,” Judge David St Pierre said in his ruling. He found that Williams punched Bilida in the mouth, which constitutes assault. But, he said, it is difficult to find “some form of anti-gay sentiment” as the motive for the assault.

St Pierre said Bilida, Chandra Herbert’s executive assistant, was working at the counter in the MLA’s Denman Street office when Williams entered, looked around and put his hands on the counter.

“Mr Bilida testified it appeared to him that Mr Williams was impaired by alcohol in some fashion,” St Pierre said. He found that Williams had seen the MLA from outside the office and had gone in to speak to him.

Bilida testified that part of his job was to protect his boss from unpleasant visitors and therefore told Williams that Chandra Herbert was not in. “There’s no doubt, on all of the evidence, that was part of the reason Mr Williams became testy,” St Pierre said.

Bilida said that Williams had asked him what he thought of the “fucking flag across the street.” When Bilida asked Williams what he meant, St Pierre found that Williams responded, “‘Those fucking faggot flags on my library.’”

Williams also made comments about a Pride flag in the MLA’s office lobby, the judge found, though Williams testified he never used the words “fag” or “faggot” that day.

Bilida testified that he told Williams that it was likely best if the two agreed to disagree and asked Williams to leave. “‘What are you going to do if I don’t?’” the judge found Williams responded.

The judge said evidence indicated that Bilida then went into the office’s front lobby, closed a door behind him and pushed the button for the automatic front-door opener and asked Williams to leave.

St Pierre said Bilida’s evidence was that Williams then swung at him and hit a door instead. “The next swing did connect with his face, his mouth,” St Pierre said. “Mr Bilida went down to the ground at that point.”

The judge said it was then that Chandra Herbert came from the back, having heard yelling about “fucking rainbow flags” and hearing a loud bang. “Mr Bilida was holding his jaw and looking shocked,” the judge said. “He was upright at that point.”

St Pierre said Chandra Herbert also saw Williams leaving and the door open, suggesting the automatic door opener had been engaged as Bilida said.

Williams then stood on the street smoking a cigarette. Chandra Herbert told him to stay where he was as the police were coming, and Bilida photographed him. The MLA testified he heard Williams talking to another man about “fag flags.”

Constable Tom Hall arrived shortly after and was of the opinion that Williams had been drinking, St Pierre said. Hall testified that Williams asked him if he was “Chandra Herbert’s boy.”

In assessing the evidence, St Pierre said Williams was clearly aggravated when he entered the office. The judge also said it was “probably not a good idea for a constituency assistant to lie in the fashion Mr Bilida did.”

St Pierre said the situation had developed when Williams talked to the MLA at some point earlier about the flag and thought a Vancouver city flag might be better. Neither was sure if there was such a flag. Williams later found out there was. He testified that he had gone to the MLA’s office to discuss the issue.

“Probably not a good decision in hindsight because the previous night he had consumed some 15 cans of Budweiser,” St Pierre said. “He agrees he is an alcoholic.” However, he said, Williams was “unusually concerned about this flag issue” and given the amount of alcohol consumed, “was in an ornery mood.”

He remarked on Williams’s “unusually strong concern” about the flag. “It’s beyond me,” he said.

Crown prosecutor Mark Jetté said that a substance abuse and anger control problem is at the core of the case.

Defence lawyer Terry La Liberte had suggested at trial Dec 18 and 19 that Chandra Herbert and Bilida were gay activists keen to show the incident as hate-motivated based on Williams’s offensive and pejorative language.

St Pierre said the suggestion was that Chandra Herbert wanted to be seen by constituents as tough on the issue. “Both the men denied there was any political overtone or motive in the prosecution,” St Pierre said.

Jetté suggested that the judge rule for a short incarceration to denounce an assault in an MLA’s office, where the public, MLA and staff should feel safe. La Liberte suggested a conditional discharge.

The judge noted that Williams has a criminal record consisting of impaired driving, mischief and assault from 20 years ago before giving him a suspended sentence and a year’s probation and ordering him to stay away from Bilida and the MLA’s office.

He said Williams could write to Chandra Herbert. “I don’t want to prevent a constituent from ever being able to contact their MLA,” he said.

In a statement to Xtra, Chandra Herbert says that the Pride flag will remain in his office and that he and his staff “will continue to stand proudly for love and equality and against violence.”

“We have always maintained confidence in our legal and judicial system, and we respect today’s court decision,” Chandra Herbert says. “While we believe it remains crucial to report such incidents to authorities, we hold no ill-will towards Mr Williams, and we hope that he finds peace in his life, and learns from this.”

Williams was also ordered to pay $225 restitution for the door and not to be intoxicated in public.

La Liberte said Williams has been attending a program to deal with his alcohol issue.

He has 30 days to appeal the decision.