5 min

Still no hate-crime designation

Deva calls for full probe into Crown's handling of Webster case

Four. That’s the number of chances BC Supreme Court Justice Mary Humphries gave prosecutor Greg Weber to make a hate-crime application during Ryan Cran’s recent sentencing hearing, Jan 27.

And four times Weber dodged it.

Webster was beaten to death Nov 17, 2001 at Second Beach in Stanley Park. Cran was convicted of his manslaughter last December.

Two youths are already serving three-year sentences for the killing; a second adult tried with Cran, Danny Rao, was acquitted.

The Crown urged Humphries to sentence Cran to six-to-nine years in a federal penitentiary. The defence countered with two-to-four years.

But most people’s focus was fixed firmly on the motive in this case.

Ever since Webster’s severely beaten and nearly naked body was discovered near Stanley Park’s gay cruising trails in 2001, the gay community, along with several members of the Vancouver Police Department, have called the killing a hate-motivated gaybashing.

But Crown spokesperson Stan Lowe says the motive remains unclear in this case. “After examining the evidence, the court itself decided the motive was obscure,” he told reporters.

Though Weber listed 11 aggravating factors in court to support his request for a six-to-nine year sentence, he did not mention hate motivation. Instead, he pointed to such factors as Cran being a principal member of the group he drove to Stanley Park that night, and to the weapons he had in his Jeep.

Justice Humphries, however, seemed open to considering evidence that the killing was, in fact, motivated by hatred. She went so far as to suggest there was information she had not been given in order to make her decision.

“So the evidence I heard at trial was the totality of the evidence?” she asked Weber.

She then mentioned the December 2003 sentencing decision for the first youth convicted in the case, in which Judge Valmond Romilly declared the killing a hate crime.

“This is of great public concern,” she said. “Am I missing something?”

“No, you have not missed anything,” Weber responded, adding that Romilly had concluded the killing was a hate crime “on his own volition,” simply because Webster was gay.

As the exchange continued, a voice at the back of the gallery called: “All stand in memory of Aaron.” Throughout the gallery, spectators rose quietly and remained standing for several minutes.

As Weber continued, another voice shouted: “This is a hate crime.”

The gallery fell silent once again as the convicted killer addressed the court, reading from a prepared letter. Cran said he was sorry for what he had done and for the pain he has caused.

He sighed heavily as he stood before Humphries in the secure $7.2-million courtroom built for the Air India bombing trial.

“It just seems like a horrible dream,” he said. “Every day, I have this empty feeling in my stomach that I was part of a group of people that killed an innocent man.

“I have no explanation for what happened,” he continued. “I wish I had the courage to have prevented this.”

Cran listened in silence as three members of Webster’s family made victim impact statements, often turning to address the killer directly.

“Some of my zest for life died with Aaron,” his mother, Joan Prokopetz, said. “At times, I feel as if my heart has been ripped open.”

Added sister Pamela Miller: “Mr Cran is now and forever a hideous part of our family history.”

Outside court, members of the gay community who had been in the gallery seethed with anger at the Crown’s submissions.

“He doesn’t care. It’s not important,” said David McDonald. “Somebody has to stand up and say this is not right.”

The conduct of this case has been a travesty and must be investigated, said Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva.

Deva then called on Attorney General Geoff Plant for a “full and formal” probe into the way the case was handled.

The fact that it wasn’t handled as a hate crime must have come under direction from Victoria, Deva charged. “It’s obvious it’s coming from a homophobic cabinet.

“It’s saying gay and lesbian people are not protected by law,” he continued. “We’re back on a hunting list.”

“It’s as if the Crown was working for the defence,” he added.

Deva is also angry at Weber for not presenting a victim impact statement to the court on behalf of the gay community.

The Crown in the first youth’s case, Sandra Dworkin, specifically reached out to Deva in 2003 and asked him to write a statement on behalf of the gay community. Dworkin then presented the statement to the court at the youth’s sentencing hearing. Judge Romilly later ruled the killing was a hate crime.

The community wanted to make a victim impact statement in Cran’s case, too, Deva points out. “It would have shown some recognition that there was a community impacted by this crime-which you never would have known from listening to his [Weber’s] argument.”

In his original statement presented to Romilly, Deva stressed the impact Webster’s killing had on Vancouver’s gay community. It shattered the notion that Vancouver is a safe haven for gays and lesbians, he said.

Deva’s statement was later presented to the court at the second youth’s sentencing hearing, as well. Weber was the Crown on that trial.

Deva was hoping Weber would present the statement again at Cran’s sentencing. But his hopes were dashed.

Weber must have been well aware that the gay community presented a statement at the last two trials, Deva points out. The statement could have easily been used again at Cran’s hearing.

But that wouldn’t have fit into the Crown’s understanding of the case, Deva says bitterly. “The Crown was firmly convinced that it wasn’t” a hate crime. So he didn’t want to hear from a community saying it was.

When asked to explain the Crown’s refusal to enter a victim impact statement from the gay community at Cran’s hearing, spokesperson Lowe said Deva had not asked to make such a statement. “Mr Deva has not approached us in this particular case, so it was not an issue.”

Deva says he shouldn’t have had to ask, since the Crown approached him last time. “I don’t think the onus is on me to beg them for a victim impact statement when the precedent is set.”

Lowe’s predecessor, former Crown spokesperson Geoffrey Gaul, indicated he was already looking into the possibility of Deva making a statement on behalf of the gay community last December.

When asked about it by Xtra West, Gaul said he couldn’t say yet if the community would be allowed to make a victim impact statement. But he thought the community had made such a statement in the first youth’s case, and said he would look into it.

Now, as Deva waits to hear Justice Humphries’ sentencing decision, he says it’s time to look to the future. He wants to sit down with the gay community, and particularly its lawyers, to “figure out a strategy for educating” the Crown.

“It’s obvious they have no concept about what’s going on around hate crimes and they need some educating,” he says. “We’re going to have to do far more outreaching.”

Justice Humphries will release her decision on Cran’s sentence on Feb 8.