3 min

No ‘hate crime’ request by Crown

Webster killing: 'the banality of evil'

Despite drawing from Nazi history to characterize the Nov 2001 killing of gay man Aaron Webster, the Crown for a second time in recent months did not label the killing a hate crime.

Crown prosecutor Greg Weber was making his sentencing submissions Mar 31 in the case of the second youth to plead guilty to manslaughter in Webster’s killing in Stanley Park.

Weber quoted German political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s famous lines about hate: “The banality of evil.” Arendt used the phrase to discuss the incomprehensible nature of the hate-motivated Holocaust killings; she was describing Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann, architect of the genocide. In quoting Arendt, Weber said, “There is nothing that points out as to why this young man and the other young men bonded together and caused such a violent and difficult-to-understand act against another human being.”

But Weber did not ask the court and Judge Jodie Werier to designate Webster’s killing as hate-motivated.

It was the second time the Crown did not pursue a hate-crime label in Webster’s killing. Sentencing submissions last November for the first youth charged in the killing also omitted any suggestion of a hate crime.

Judge Valmond Romilly ruled in that case Dec 18 that the killing was a hate crime and specifically rejected the Crown’s earlier statement that the incident was not a gaybashing. He also called the youths Nazi thugs.

Defence lawyer Phil Rankin objected to Weber’s use of Arendt’s phrase and to Romilly’s characterization of the youths as Nazi thugs. Rankin called both statements historically inaccurate.

And, Rankin argued, there was no evidence for Romilly to have made the hate crime designation.

“He had to conjure it up as it was not there,” he said. “The Crown did not argue it was a sex-based crime. It was fair to say anyone walking around in the woods at night might have been prey for these people.

“It is not open for Your Honour to view this as a hate crime.”

Rankin characterized the case as that of “a group of young boys who went to the park to get their jollies at someone else’s expense.

“Gaybashing or hunting is far too sophisticated for what is going on in their heads.”

In recounting the events of the evening, Weber told the court the accused had been drinking at a Burnaby home before setting out for Stanley Park.

Despite his decision not to pursue a hate designation for the second youth, Weber asked for sentencing parity with the first youth sentenced last December.

That youth got two years in jail and one year’s house arrest after pleading guilty to manslaughter in July 2003. (Both youths, now 19, were 17 at the time of Webster’s death and cannot be named under youth crime legislation.)

“The maximum sentence under the Youth Criminal Justice Act is appropriate,” Weber said of the second youth. “They are equally culpable for the actions of the group.”

Rankin suggested a sentence of 28 to 32 months.

He said the fact that the youth pleaded guilty, and has agreed to testify in future against the two men facing charges in adult court in connection with the incident, should be mitigating factors in sentencing.

Rankin said the youth faces the jailhouse stigma of being a “rat” and could spend much of his time in jail in protective custody. He also noted that the youth’s girlfriend is two months from giving birth to their child.

The youth stared straight ahead as victim impact statements from Webster’s mother and sister were read by Webster’s cousin, Fred Norman.

The court also accepted a victim impact statement prepared by Jim Deva on behalf of the gay community.

Psychiatric reports show the youth is a low risk to re-offend, Weber noted. The youth has denied alcohol was a factor in the crime, he said.

“He knew what was happening at the time of the event,” Weber said. “He claimed he did not intend for someone to die. He did not foresee the potential for death by his actions.”

Rankin said that lack of intent to kill was the reason the Crown accepted manslaughter pleas.

But, said Weber, “There is nothing in this report that points to why someone would do what this person and the other persons did.

“Clearly, his actions in the beating represent a profound callousness and a reckless disregard for the victim.”

The youth will be sentenced Apr 21 at 2:30 pm in courtroom 106, downstairs at 800 Hornby St.