3 min

Shock and anger

Gays furious at Crown for lack of hate designation

DISMAY: Gay activists are furious at the Crown's not labelling the killing a 'hate crime' or a 'gaybashing' in the trial of the second youth accused of killing Aaron Webster (above). Credit: Xtra West files

The gay community has reacted with shock, anger and confusion as prosecutors in the Aaron Webster killing have for the second time failed to ask for a hate crime designation-this time in the sentencing of the second youth to plead guilty to manslaughter.

And, say activists, it’s time an almost silent community speaks out loudly to tell the courts that the failure is not acceptable.

“The community needs to get out and let the attorney general know they’re screwing up,” says Kim Hoath, who co-organized a Stanley Park memorial for Webster.

Police labelled the crime as hate-motivated almost immediately after Webster’s Nov 17, 2001 beating death in the park.

While the prosecutor in the trial of the first youth to plead guilty to manslaughter did not ask for the hate crime designation, Judge Valmond Romilly added it when he sentenced the first youth to two years in jail and one year’s house arrest last December.

Romilly compared the killers to Nazi thugs. He specifically rejected Crown counsel’s earlier statement that the incident wasn’t a gaybashing.

“The attack and beating of Mr Webster was, in fact, a hate crime as set out in Section 718 of the Criminal Code,” Romilly ruled.

Section 718 says a convicted person should get a stiffer sentence if the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on, among other factors, “sexual orientation or any other similar factor.”

Romilly didn’t accept the first youth’s claim that his actions were not motivated by a hatred of gays.

It’s hard to believe, Romilly said, that the youth could be “so naïve that [he] did not notice this area [of Stanley Park] was frequented by gays.”

Queer activist Jim Deva shook his head in dismay when told of the Crown’s not asking for a hate crime designation for the second youth.

When the first youth was sentenced, Deva was pleased Romilly had “got it.” He had hoped the ruling would set a precedent for the remaining three accused.

Now, he’s not so sure.

“It’s discouraging,” he says. “Is it too complex for the court system to deal with?”

Deva surmises the lack of a hate crime designation request may reflect institutionalized homophobia in Victoria.

The prosecutors “reflect the philosophy of the provincial government,” he says.

Jack Herman of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE) agrees.

With the prosecutor this time having used philosopher Hanna Arendt’s Holocaust-related quote about “the banality of evil” in sentencing submissions, Herman questions what’s going on in the court.

“My question to the Crown attorney would be: ‘Are you saying these things and not suggesting a hate crime because you have been told not to suggest it?‚'” Herman asks. “If some boss has told you you’re not allowed to raise it to a hate crime, who is that?

“I’m confounded by a Crown that doesn’t seem to take this seriously as a hate crime.

“There’s a lot of angry people out there,” he adds.

Hoath, who sat through the sentencing submissions, is one of them.

He says his experience sitting in court made him realize what kind of standards are being set for attitudes toward the gay community.

“The criminals have more rights than you do,” he says.

Webster’s cousin, Fred Norman, and his wife were in court for the sentencing submissions Mar 31. Norman says he was disgusted by the submissions.

He says it is quite clear the killing of his cousin was a hate crime. He called defence lawyer Phil Rankin’s submissions “insensitive.”

“He’s trivialized what happened to Aaron,” he says. “This kid had a choice to stop doing what he was doing.

“Aaron pleaded with them.”

And, Norman says, the hate crime designation should stick for the second youth. He says Romilly’s decision was well thought out.

But, says queer lawyer Garth Barriere, the Crown is not bound by that decision.

Barriere cautions the Crown may have felt it had no choice but to proceed in the same manner as it did on the first youth.

“They would argue they have to be consistent,” he says, adding the Crown does have the option to reconsider.

“The Crown is not a body that’s very good at admitting to failure,” Barriere says. “Governments just generally aren’t and the Crown is a part of the state apparatus.”

Crown spokesperson Geoffrey Gaul says the Crown did nothing wrong. A hate crime designation does not have to originate with the Crown, he explains; a judge can reach that determination based on the evidence the Crown presents.

Gaul adds that both Sandra Dworkin, who prosecuted the first youth, and Weber, the Crown on the second youth’s case, are respected senior lawyers.

“I don’t think there is any suggestion these prosecutors didn’t take this seriously,” Gaul says. “The Crown takes these kinds of allegations very seriously.”

Barriere is not convinced. He says the whole case has now become constrained by the manner in which the state apparatus has managed the situation from the start.

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