A group of queer activists and their allies held an anti-hate rally in front of Vancouver’s jail Jun 30, after Saturday’s East Side Pride event was soured by an allegedly violent confrontation with four suspected neo-Nazis.
Peter Haywood, a 27-year-old out gay man, was involved in Saturday’s clash. He says he organized the rally to demonstrate to those who would advocate hate that “they are not welcome in our community.”
“We didn’t win our rights by sitting on our couches and watching M*A*S*H,” says Haywood. “We will stand up and we will fight back.”
Bearing a sign that read “Honk if You Hate Homophobia,” activists on the corner of Cordova and Main St garnered support from those driving by. Pedestrians stopped amid posters declaring anti-racist and queer-positive messages to ask questions and to share stories about similar confrontations. One remarked that he was on his way to quit a job in which he felt that the anti-gay sentiment of supervisors was keeping him from advancement.
Haywood believes that homophobia was a motivating factor in Saturday’s incident.
Around 4 pm Saturday, Haywood says four people whom he describes as “Nazi skinheads” arrived at Grandview Park during the East Side Pride festival.
Haywood alleges that a man with visible tattoos of Nazi symbols “grabbed one of the Pride signs, dropped it on the ground and smashed on it” with his foot.
Haywood says he and a friend confronted the man at this point.
“He said that we were fucking scum, that we were disgusting,” Haywood alleges. “He started being verbal and saying, ‘I hate you and you hate us, you want to kill us and we want to kill you.'”
That’s when Haywood says his friend touched the man’s glasses, and things escalated.
Details of the series of events that followed are still being gathered.
Haywood alleges the man punched his female friend twice in the face, after which a group of queers and allies involved themselves in the melee.
“I saw a muscular man punch a number of people as his three friends laughed,” alleges eyewitness Stephen Emery-Coderre. He and a number of others witnessed the violence from the patio of a nearby restaurant.
Const Tim Fanning, media relations officer for the Vancouver Police Department, says four people were arrested near the scene in connection with the alleged incident. He says the man accused of assaulting Haywood and his friend is known to police, but that neither he nor his cohorts have been identified as belonging to a neo-Nazi or similar organization.
No charges have yet been laid.
Haywood alleges that anti-gay sentiment was evident during the confrontation. He alleges that one man said, “That’s disgusting, that’s not safe” about having “gay blood” on him.
Haywood and his friends organized yesterday’s demonstration under the supposition that the accused were being held in custody. Soon after setting up, they were notified by an on-duty officer that the suspects had not been detained over the weekend due to a lack of information about the incident.
Haywood claims he spent over an hour speaking with the officers on scene and was under the impression that his alleged assailants were taken into custody.
“They never told me that they were released,” he says. “I’m extremely angry about that.”
Fanning says the police report indicates the female victim did not give a statement at the time of the incident. “We’re still waiting for witness statements to come in,” he explains. He says the VPD takes potential hate crimes seriously and that an officer has been assigned to investigate the case further.
“I don’t usually have much trust or faith in the VPD in general,” says Haywood, “but I wanted to give them a chance.”
Now he says he feels “betrayed” that police did not press charges based on his oral statement.
Police in Canada do not press charges; they can only recommend charges to Crown counsel who then decide whether to pursue a case based on the evidence available. Haywood has not yet furnished police with a written statement of his account of the incident.
“Police and queers don’t mix,” Haywood asserts. He says he has now decided not to work within the legal system.
“I won’t be working with the cops at all,” he says. “I feel that they’re part of the problem.”
Statistics Canada released a report in February stating that queers are generally less satisfied with the work of their local police than are their heterosexual counterparts. The VPD is currently working with The Centre to organize public forums about the relationship between the police and queer communities.
Haywood says he would “rather be doing community outreach” about hate-based violence than working within the government framework.
To those who could advocate hate, Haywood has one thing to say: “We don’t want you in our community,” he says, “you’re not welcome.”