Police have arrested two men in connection with two homophobic assaults that allegedly happened in Hamilton in the early hours of Dec 9.
The alleged victims left separately from the Embassy nightclub, a predominantly gay venue. One man was allegedly knocked to the ground and then punched and kicked in the head by as many as three men in their early 20s around 3 am. The second victim allegedly suffered a similar attack about a half hour later.
Police say the first victim was hospitalized and released but has returned to hospital several times since the incident for treatment of a head injury. Det Sgt Chris Kiriakopoulos says the victim has undergone X-rays and an MRI.
Kiriakopoulos says the attacks were clearly homophobic. The attackers allegedly made anti-gay comments during the incidents but police believe the alleged assailants may have been at the club as well.
“We put a lot of resources into this,” says Kiriakopoulos. “We saw this as a priority. I got a detective team on it right away. There was a serial nature to these attacks. I was worried there would be a continuation of the assaults.”
Kiriakopoulos says the queer community in Hamilton was very helpful in the investigation and in identifying the alleged assailants. But he says he would like to see closer cooperation between police and queers.
According to Hamilton police statistics there were four assaults in 2006 that were considered homophobic hate crimes but Kiriakopoulos says there were almost certainly others that police were not called to because victims feared reprisals or dealing with police.
“We believe in working with the LGBT community,” he says, “but there are incidents that don’t get reported.”
About 35 Hamilton queers held a rally in freezing cold weather on Dec 15 to protest the attacks and call for community unity.
“It was empowering, inspiring,” says rally organizer Jamie Blair. “I think people were ready to take back the night. I hope this rally will bring the community together and make it clear this will not be tolerated.”
Blair praised the police response to the attacks but says he’s not sure it’ll make a difference in future cases.
“People fear going to the police,” he says. “They don’t want to out themselves and they don’t want to talk about things that were so scary to them. I’m not sure people will report things more often. But I think the police will take it more seriously when they do.”
Blair says the effect of the attacks will linger for a long time.
“I think there’s still a feeling of fear and I think that’ll last for a while,” he says.
The rally heard from members of the queer community, from Kiriakopoulos and from a statement prepared by one of the victim’s friends.
“Based on this experience we affirm that the right of individuals to their own lifestyle, sexual orientation and gender affiliation is a matter of basic human rights,” the statement read.
The statement also noted that one alleged victim is not queer.
“So as long as such basic rights are not guaranteed for everybody then they are guaranteed for no one,” the statement read.
Josh Pfau, 23, and Earl Robinson, 24, both of Hamilton, are charged with assault causing bodily harm. Kiriakopoulos says police are considering charges against a third man.