The victim of a highly publicized gaybashing in Thunder Bay is trying to get on with his life after pleading guilty to assault. Jake Raynard negotiated a plea bargain, avoided a trial and got an absolute discharge. That means details of the incident will be stripped from his record in a year if he stays out of trouble.
But wait a minute — how can Raynard be considered a victim and an assailant at the same time?
Raynard says he’s struggling with that very issue. “In the process of defending myself and my friends, I did harm to my attackers,” says the 30-year-old artist, who says he and two other guys were attacked by a group of thugs outside a gay-friendly Thunder Bay bar on Sept 5, 2009.
Acccording to Raynard, the four teens shouted “fags” and “fairies” at the trio, then threw bricks at them. “I pulled an attacker off my friends and then kicked him a couple of times,” says Raynard.
Raynard’s friends got away in a cab, but he was knocked unconscious. He needed reconstructive surgery to repair a shattered skull, crushed cheekbone, broken jaw and damage to one eye.
The assault involving Raynard made headlines across Canada, prompted the creation of a Facebook page that drew almost 7,000 supporters and caused hundreds of people in Thunder Bay to rally against community violence. A couple of months later, community members were surprised when Raynard, too, was charged.
“I may have exceeded some bounds,” Raynard admits. “I’m a little bit in shock that I reacted that way. I’m not a violent person. There was alcohol and flared tempers. I have feelings of massive regret. It’s something that I’m dealing with on a daily basis.”
Having said that, Raynard feels frustration about his guilty plea. “The verdict sends a mixed message,” he says. The main reason he didn’t fight the charge was money. “Going to court is expensive, so I don’t feel I was given many options.”
As a result, Raynard feels an important question about the case will probably never be answered: To what degree should you be allowed to defend yourself?
The other four guys involved in the case have all been charged with assault, too. If they’re found guilty, a judge could decide to increase their sentences if he or she decides a hate crime was committed, too. “I think [the other assailants] intentionally chose to target queer people,” says Raynard, but he’s not pushing for a hate crime designation.
Instead, he and other community members are encouraging Thunder Bay police to focus on wider causes of violence. They suspect that the attackers’ main motivation was to get initiated into a gang.
“We’ve got a major gang problem in Thunder Bay,” Raynard says. “The police have lost control of the city.”
Following the assault, Raynard missed two months of work. Friends and community members raised $5,000 to pay for expenses related to his recovery, but he still owes $2,000 in legal bills. He now works as a production assistant at a glass-blowing studio in the Ottawa Valley, while considering a return to Thunder Bay.
“I’m in a brewing period while I decide what to do,” says Raynard. “It really seems like the universe is trying to push me away from Thunder Bay. But there’s still a large part of me that wants to be in Thunder Bay and make it my home.”
He’s anxious for the other four men in the case to be tried. “There’s not a lot of closure right now,” says Raynard. “I’m still waiting to find out what will happen to my attackers.” He’ll find out when they get their day in court next month.