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Not a hate crime, judge rules in Vancouver lesbian bashing

But judge expresses concern that homophobia may have motivated Walko

Homophobia may have motivated an attack against two Vancouver lesbians but there was insufficient evidence to prove it, provincial court Judge Carmen Rogers ruled March 25.

Andrew Joseph Walko, 47, was charged with assault and assault causing bodily harm for attacking the women as they exited a bus on Hastings Street at Commercial Drive on Sept 18, 2013.

Rogers ruled the assault on Ali Matson “made her feel victimized as a homosexual woman trying to live her life.” Matson’s girlfriend, Jacqueline Clarke, was also injured in the assault.

Rogers sentenced Walko, who pleaded guilty last November to assault causing bodily harm, to an 18-month suspended sentence and warned him he would likely be jailed if such an incident occurred again.

“This was a completely unprovoked attack,” Rogers said. “It was an attack in public on a stranger.”

Though Rogers expressed concern that the motive behind the attack may have been homophobia, she said she lacked sufficient evidence to reach that conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt. “It is of concern to me that may well be the motive behind it,” she said.

It’s an issue probation officials might want to address in their handling of Walko’s counselling during his sentence, the judge suggested.

Walko has no prior criminal history. He was described in court as “low-functioning.”

(Above: Andrew Joseph Walko/Jeremy Hainsworth photo. Top photo: Jacqueline Clarke and Ali Matson/Rob Easton photo)

The court heard that Matson and Clarke boarded the bus at Hastings and Renfrew streets at 6pm but were unable to find a seat. Walko was already seated.

Crown prosecutor Jenny Machek told Rogers the standing couple occasionally bumped into each other and exchanged brief kisses.

Machek said transit video obtained by police showed Walko watching the women with his arms crossed. “It could be said he was somewhat agitated,” she said.

Four minutes later, the couple got off the bus, followed quickly by Walko. “He effectively stalked them out the door very abruptly,” Machek said.

She said Walko struck Matson three times in the head. “She was effectively shoved up against a shop window as Mr Walko bore down on her.”

Witnesses heard Walko shouting “shut up” and “you sluts.”

“He grabbed me by the shoulder, and he punched me in the face with all his body strength,” Matson told Daily Xtra soon after the attack. “My nose was bleeding everywhere, and he gave me two black eyes. He was not holding back at all.” 

The court heard that Matson weighs about 110 pounds while Walko weighs more than double.

Clarke attempted to intervene in the assault. “She was rewarded for her efforts by being struck as well by Mr Walko,” Machek said.

“It was so terrifying because I remember I just sort of watched it all happen and then he turned on me,” Clarke told Daily Xtra at the time.

The assault left Matson with two black eyes, a bloodied nose and possible nose injuries, the court heard.

“This incident interfered in a significant way with her ability to go about in the world, continues to cause her fear, uncertainty, anxiety,” Machek said.

Defence lawyer David Tarnow said Walko regrets the incident.

“He said he had been drinking and he lost his temper when he saw what was happening on the bus,” Tarnow said.

As passersby arrived, Walko left the scene.

Walko’s identity remained unknown until police released to media photos from surveillance footage from the bus. Walko admitted he is the man in the footage, Machek said. The footage shows a man boarding a #135 bus westbound at about 5:15pm on the evening in question at Hastings and Kensington in Burnaby.

Walko was identified when Home Depot co-workers recognized him, the court heard.

Walko has since been fired from his job.

Tarnow said Walko does not want a settlement from Home Depot but wants his job back. “Home Depot was not willing to do that,” he added.

Machek said Walko’s chances of gaining full-time employment are slim, adding to the punishment he has taken in the high-profile case.

The court heard Walko has problems dealing with open displays of affection.

Clarke, Matson and Matson’s parents were in court for the sentencing. Clarke tells Daily Xtra she’s glad to put the situation behind her, although she says she is interested to see what Walko puts in his court-ordered apology to the women.

Rogers ordered Walko to have no contact with Matson and Clarke, not to possess weapons, and to seek counselling as directed by parole officials.