A 51-year-old Ottawa man alleges he was beaten and robbed in a gay cruising area in broad daylight behind the Université du Québec en Outaouais.
Michel (who asked that his real name not be published for fear of reprisal from his alleged attackers) says he was relaxing by the Ottawa River with his iPod and a book shortly after noon on Friday, July 11, when he became aware of a young man who appeared to be watching him. The young man was neatly dressed and appeared to be checking his cellphone repeatedly.
A second young man appeared to be watching another regular who was sunbathing nearby, Michel adds. Another regular noticed and expressed concern to Michel that the young observers were behaving suspiciously, Michel says.
“After that gentleman had told me that warning, I sort of, like, registered it, but I didn’t get all scared or anything about it,” he says. “I just went back to doing my thing. I was laying down listening to my music, reading my book, and then all of a sudden I hear screaming and I hear the struggle.”
Michel alleges that the two young men threatened the sunbather and demanded his personal belongings. Then, he says, he heard a splash in the river as the attackers allegedly threw the man in.
“At that point, because I was laying there in my swimsuit, I just quickly put on my shorts, grabbed my flip flops, threw my personal belongings in my beach bag, and in a matter of a few minutes [tried] to decide which was my safest escape route.”
Michel began running up a trail in the woods, but one of the men pursued him, he says. The man yelled at him, he says, asking where he was going in such a hurry, before catching up and grabbing him.
“He said, ‘I know what you’re doing here, I know what you’re doing here.’ He kept saying that many times, and that’s when he started punching me,” Michel alleges.
The young man punched and hit him with one hand while keeping the other on his beach bag and demanding his money and iPod, Michel alleges.
Michel says the man succeeded in wrestling his bag away from him but continued to hit and punch him. “His purpose was more than a robbery there,” he alleges. “He threw me to the ground, and I fell onto some rocks, and that point is where it was the most terrifying thing in my life. I thought for sure that I was gonna die.”
Michel managed to escape to the bike path, where he was able to flag down a jogger who called the police. Michel gave the dispatcher a detailed description of the two alleged attackers. Within minutes police arrived and arrested two men.
Michel says he was able to recover his personal identification, clothes and car keys, but not his iPod, cash or phone.
Gatineau police spokesperson Sergeant Jean-Paul Lemay confirms that police received a call and investigated an incident in the area. “There were two incidents one after the other,” he says. “Following the good description that the victims were able to give us, we had officers patrolling nearby that saw the two aggressors and were able to proceed to their arrest.”
Two suspects, both 21, were arrested and taken into custody. They have since been released on a summons to appear in court at a later date, Lemay says, and are prohibited from contacting each other or returning to the site of the alleged attacks.
Lemay could not confirm when the suspects are expected to appear in court but says Gatineau police will follow up because of strong public interest in the case. “As soon as the charges are authorized, we will be giving the media an update,” he says.
He says police are investigating the possibility that the incident was motivated by hate.