“That’s enough,” they said-and the crowd responded.
“That’s enough!” they repeated and 1,000 gay protesters, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the intermittent drizzle, packing the space between the courthouse steps and the street, cheered them on.
They had all gathered to rally in Aaron Webster’s memory, to remember a brother savagely beaten to death near the gay cruising trails of Stanley Park in 2001.
They had gathered to mourn, to remember and to demand justice.
“It has been more than three years since that fateful night in November, when young men killed our friend, our family member” and left him to die on a cold, concrete road, speaker Jim Deva reminded the crowd at the courthouse, Sun Jan 23.
It has been more than three years since “our community rallied on these streets and demanded justice for Aaron.
“Again we rally in all our numbers and all our diversity-and demand that the courts take a strong position. That the courts identify the predatory murder of Aaron Webster as the horrendous hate-filled crime that it was.
“That this court behind me apply the hate-crime designation as it was designed and intended to be used,” Deva told the crowd to much applause.
According to the Criminal Code of Canada, when someone commits a crime such as manslaughter out of hatred for a particular group such as gays, the judge can give the convicted killer a longer sentence for his crime.
Several speakers at the rally praised Judge Valmond Romilly for doing just that in December 2003.
Romilly called Webster’s killing a gaybashing and explicitly recognized the hate motivation that is believed to have fuelled it. Then he threw the book at the first killer and sentenced the youth to two years in detention plus a year’s conditional release.
As Deva addressed Sunday’s protestors, their thoughts turned to Ryan Cran, the last killer convicted in the case, then scheduled to begin sentencing proceedings four days later. They hoped the judge assigned to Cran’s case would follow Romilly’s lead.
“The hate-crime legislation must be applied in this courthouse on Thurs Jan 27,” Deva declared. “We are here as a community to demand justice for Aaron!”
Judge Romilly had the courage to speak the truth and “break the silence,” agreed former MP Svend Robinson, in his first public speaking appearance since stealing a ring last spring.
He, too, hoped Cran’s judge, Justice Mary Humphries, would call the killing a hate crime.
He also hoped the Crown would do its job and describe the killing as a hate crime and ask Humphries for the hate-crime designation. But he wasn’t feeling too confident about the Crown.
“The silence of the Crown has been deafening and shameful,” Robinson said, referring to the Crown’s apparent refusal to use the word gaybashing at trial.
“I call on Attorney General Geoff Plant and I say, ‘That’s enough!’
“Show some leadership and make sure that every Crown attorney in this province is educated to understand hate crimes, and to ensure they enforce those sections of the Criminal Code,” Robinson demanded.
“I find it sad, I find it incomprehensible, and yes, I find it shameful that the Crown, throughout these entire proceedings, has not once challenged the accused about the reality of this crime being a gaybashing and a hate crime,” he continued.
“We know that this case is not about peeping toms,” Robinson added, referring to the killers’ continued assertions that they were looking for “peeping toms” not gay men. “It’s about beating Toms, and Franks and Aarons.
“And it must never happen again.”
Robinson then turned his attention to the school system. “Ryan Cran and the other thugs who beat Aaron Webster to death went to school in my community in Burnaby. I want to say to the school boards, ‘That’s enough! No more! Show some leadership.’
“Make sure that your schools are places that celebrate diversity and don’t produce the Ryan Crans that go out and beat gay people,” he said.
“Let us resolve to make Aaron Webster’s last words a reality: That’s enough. No more. Never, ever again!”
“Aaron Webster should have been free to live his life without hate or violence,” added former BC Human Rights commissioner Mary-Woo Sims. “We all should be.”
“We must be ever vigilant in our commitment to be here,” concluded Little Sister’s manager Janine Fuller. “I am so proud of you right now, fighting for something that is so fundamentally important that many people take for granted-the freedom to be who you are. Thank you all for coming.”
As the protesters disbursed, Goran Wallin disassembled his “Homophobic murder-Waiting for justice!” sign and slowly prepared to go home.
The rally, his first of the sort with Vancouver’s gay community, had brought up many painful memories for him. “I am so emotional,” he said. “I have felt so strongly for all these people.”
Like many in the gay community, Wallin is no stranger to homophobic violence. Years before Webster was killed in the park, Wallin’s life was irrevocably altered by another homophobic murder in 1984. This time the target was his close friend and ex-lover, Dieter John. Police never made an arrest in the case.
“I have lived with this grief since 1984,” he said. “I am here grieving not only for Aaron Webster but for a society that fuels hatred towards those that are different or vulnerable.
“So I feel maybe that I have contributed something” in coming to this rally today, he continued. “And maybe, at the same time, I have done this because I have been waiting for justice since 1984.”
Wallin said he, too, hoped Justice Humphries would label Cran’s actions a hate crime. And, he said, he planned to attend the sentencing hearing on Jan 27 to find out.
“And if it is not to my liking, I will scream, ‘Shame!'” he added.
Justice Humphries heard sentencing arguments in Cran’s case later that week. She is expected to release her decision Feb 8.