3 min

Too little, too late

SkyTrain security fails desperate youth

Credit: Robin Perelle

When 16-year-old Chris Iversen walked into the New Westminster SkyTrain station after a YouthQuest meeting on Aug 28, he had no idea his life was about to change. Then he ran into his attackers.

“Hey pretty,” Iversen says he heard as he got on the escalator to go up to the platform. Two young Black men, probably in their early 20s, had followed him onto the escalator. They soon decided Iversen was a faggot and allegedly started spitting at him.

Then they followed him into a SkyTrain car.

Iversen, who says he looks “like a gay person” with his dyed eyebrows and pointy black shoes, found himself pushed up against the train door, ducking to avoid his alleged attackers’ spit.

That’s when he started pressing the SkyTrain yellow security strip. Assuming security personnel would be waiting for him at the next station, Iversen breathed a sigh of relief and jumped off the train as soon as it pulled up to the 22nd St platform.

But no one was there. SkyTrain security had not arrived.

“I was like, oh my god,” Iversen recalls. “I was really scared. I expected help to be there because that’s what they tell you.”

With no SkyTrain security in sight, Iversen’s alleged attackers jumped him. Iversen says they started punching and kicking him and must have smashed a beer bottle into his face.

“I was screaming for help,” he says. “They kicked my two front teeth to the back of my throat.”

Iversen says he went right on screaming, even though his teeth made it hard to breathe. Eventually, he was able to escape his attackers and make it down to the entrance area where he collapsed in another passenger’s arms.

“Blood was everywhere,” Iversen recalls. “It was just going and going and going.”

Only then did he see any SkyTrain personnel.

Dave Geddis, media relations for SkyTrain’s operator, Translink, admits that pressing the yellow security strip should set off an alarm in the control centre, which in turn notifies the attendants who are supposed to respond as quickly as possible.

In this case, Geddis says attendants arrived at the station five minutes after the fight began, though he admits they did not go up to the platform. “They can’t always be in the same place at the same time,” he says. “It was one of those incidents where we acted as quickly as was humanly possible.”

Iversen lost his two front teeth in the attack. “There’s no more bone above my teeth, where my teeth used to be,” he quietly moans. “I didn’t know that we had bone there.

“Right now I’m scared to go on transit and to go around, period,” he continues. “But I’m making myself stronger.”

New Westminster police have put out a request for information about the attack but so far have made no arrests.

Though the attack is partially visible on the SkyTrain video from that night, a police spokesperson says the images may not be clear enough to identify the suspects. Staff Sgt Casey Dehaas says an arrest may prove difficult unless witnesses come forward.

When asked if the police are investigating the attack as a hate crime, Dehaas replies that he is not aware of the victim’s racial origin. When asked if the attack may have been motivated by homophobia, he says there is no indication of that in the investigators’ file.

That concerns YouthQuest’s Victoria Henry. She wants police to prioritize the gay community’s safety. “It’s up to the police to take the initiative and say, ‘was this a hate crime?'” she says.

If police fail to gather evidence of the hate-motivated aspect of an assault, the Crown won’t be able to ask for stiffer sentencing in the event of a conviction, Henry adds.

“This needs to be made a priority for the police,” she says. “This was a really brutal assault. Hate crimes are happening everywhere.”

The last few months has seen a series of gay-bashings rock the Davie Village and surrounding areas. One attack in July saw two US sailors charged with assault. Crown spokesperson Geoffrey Gaul says he is still waiting for the sailors to return to Vancouver to face their charges.