3 min

Suspected basher missing

SkyTrain assault trial on hold

Credit: Robin Perelle

First the good news: police have made an arrest in yet another local gaybashing case. Now the bad news: the suspect missed his pre-trial court date and police don’t know where he is.

That means the trial, which was scheduled to begin Aug 25, is now on hold and police don’t know if it will ever go forward.

The case dates back to an incident that took place at the 22nd St SkyTrain station Aug 28, 2002.

Chris Iversen was on his way home from a Youthquest meeting when he ran into his alleged attackers. He was 16 years old at the time; his life hasn’t been the same since.

In an interview with Xtra West last year, Iversen said he first encountered his attackers when they began harassing him in the New Westminster SkyTrain station and followed him up to the platform. There they allegedly called him a faggot, spat at him, followed him into a SkyTrain car and pushed him up against the door.

In a panic, Iversen pushed the yellow security strip, desperately hoping SkyTrain officials would be there, waiting to protect him, at the next station. They weren’t.

As the train pulled into the 22nd St station, Iversen quickly jumped out, closely followed by his attackers. But the platform was empty. There were no security officers in sight.

That’s when Iversen says his attackers jumped him. He says they punched him and kicked him; they may have even smashed a beer bottle into his face.

“I was screaming for help,” Iversen told Xtra West shortly after the attack. “They kicked my two front teeth to the back of my throat.”

Five months later, BC’s Crown counsel charged a young man with aggravated assault in connection with the case. (The man can’t be identified because was under 18 when the attack occurred.)

The man’s trial was supposed to begin in just a few weeks, but now it’s on hold indefinitely because police don’t know where he is.

It’s very frustrating, says Staff Sgt Casey Dehaas of the New Westminster police force. “You prepare for a trial and then all of a sudden the person doesn’t show.”

Dehaas says police have been trying to find the accused ever since he missed his trial confirmation hearing Jul 15. The court has issued a new warrant for his arrest. But so far, police haven’t had any luck.

That’s not uncommon, Dehaas says. People often give the court an address, even a correct one, and then “move all over the place.

“Now we don’t know where he’s residing. We just hope that a police officer will check him” for something else, like a speeding ticket, and find his name in the computer along with the warrant for his arrest.

This sort of thing can happen three or four times before the court finally decides to hold an accused in custody until his trial date, Dehaas notes. He says he would like to see more people held in custody from the moment they’re arrested, but it’s just not feasible.

There’s no place to put them, he explains. “The jails are full and the judges have been told we can’t put everybody in jail.

“It becomes very frustrating for us.”

Victoria Henry finds it frustrating too. “We spent so long hoping someone would be found,” says the Youthquest program coordinator. “But now the whole thing is on hold.

“It’s very disappointing.”

But that’s the way the system has to be, counters gay lawyer Garth Barriere.

It can be frustrating when people disappear before a trial, he readily agrees, but it’s better than holding lots of potentially innocent people in pre-trial detention centres.

“I support the policy behind bail,” Barriere says, adding that the system does work overall. Most people show up for their court dates, he says.

Of course some don’t, he continues, but that’s just “one of the built-in frustrations of the criminal justice system.”

Besides, he adds, the court can always decide to deny someone bail if the Crown can prove they’re a likely flight risk. But the vast majority of people, and especially young offenders, get released on bail.

“And that’s just the way it has to be. Otherwise our pre-trail detention centres would be crammed full of people,” he says-and some of them would be innocent.

That might be small consolation for Iversen, who recently learned that the surgery he had to repair the bone above his kicked-in front teeth didn’t work. He may need more surgery soon.

“Basically, I’m at the beginning again,” he says sadly. “I might have to re-do the operation, and the police have to re-find this person. Everything is going wrong.”