4 min

Trans killing not a hate crime

Queer community left reeling by judge's ruling

BC Supreme Court Justice Patrick Dohm rejected a Crown application for a hate crime designation Jul 26, in what he called the “callous, brutal” 2003 killing of transsexual prostitute Shelby Tracy Tom.

“This case is about a reaction to a sex trade worker’s sexual identity,” prosecutor Craig Dykes told Dohm in making the hate crime application. “It was a prejudiced or bias-based response.”

Dohm disagreed.

Jatin Patel did not know Tom was transgendered when he met her and therefore could not have been targeting her because of her sexual orientation, the associate chief justice ruled.

Transsexual prostitution activist Jamie Lee Hamilton was in court for the sentencing and is dismayed that Dohm rejected the hate crime application.

“Judge Dohm, while appearing somewhat enlightened, has a bit of a learning curve,” she says. “It was a hate-biased crime. The fact she was a sex worker and a transgendered person had everything to do with the case.

“He admitted to it,” she continues. “I don’t know where Judge Dohm’s logical thought process comes to that conclusion.”

In an agreed upon statement of facts presented to the court when Patel pleaded guilty in March, Patel admitted he killed Tom when he discovered she was transgendered.

The hate crime provisions in the Criminal Code allow for stricter sentencing for crimes motivated by hatred based on sex, sexual orientation or any other similar factor.

Originally charged with second degree murder in Tom’s death, Patel, 30, pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this year. He was sentenced Jul 20, and was given double credit for the time he has been in jail since his arrest two days after Tom’s death.

He will serve another four and a half years to complete the nine-year sentence handed down by Dohm.

Prior to Tom’s death, Patel, a Canadian citizen who has spent most of his life in the US, had been serving a five-year sentence in a California prison for theft. Upon his release, US authorities took him to the border near Vancouver and released him onto Canadian soil.

On the day of his return to Canada, he went to The Penthouse where, after having several beers, he met Tom and took her to his North Vancouver hotel room.

There, while performing oral sex on Tom, he discovered she was transsexual. He became enraged and killed her, putting her body in a closet.

Patel then went out and brought another prostitute to his room who noticed the dead body. Patel told the woman he was thinking of throwing the corpse in the ocean, chopping it up or burning it and disposing of it.

The court heard the second prostitute talked Patel out of that course of action, saying it would severely distress the victim’s family.

Tom’s body was found behind a laundromat, wrapped in a hotel mattress cover and stuffed in a shopping cart.

“The accused acted on an impulse and became obviously angry to the point where he could not bring it under control and struck out at Miss Tom,” Dohm said. “I think that the actions of the accused were so quick and so brutal that the deceased had no chance to avoid the activity of the accused.”

“Those persons engaged in the sex trade are vulnerable,” Dohm continued as Patel fidgeted in the prisoner’s box. “It’s simply a fact of life. This deceased had absolutely no chance to defend herself or take defensive action.”

Patel’s sentence is a message that vulnerable sex trade workers are entitled to the protection of the law, Hamilton says.

“That includes providing safety for the women and men who work in the sex trade,” she says. “We cannot allow this carnage to continue. It has to be denounced.

“Hopefully, Shelby Tracy Tom’s murder will not have been in vain.”

Dohm called the crime a tragedy.

Patel’s defender, Brian Coleman, told Dohm that Patel spent much of the past 14 years in US jails. He said Patel had been sexually assaulted in prison and that his reaction toward Tom sprang partially from that.

Patel may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of that attack, psychiatrist Shabehram Lohrasbe told the court. When he discovered Tom was transgendered, Patel experienced “fear, betrayal, shame, rage and personal violation,” Lohrasbe said.

Also, Coleman said Patel was not a homosexual and suffered psychologically from having been born with a fused anus which was later corrected through surgery.

“If he had known that it was a transgendered individual, he would have said, ‘thanks but no thanks,'” Coleman said.

As well, he said, Patel has had to deal with the killing of his father in a murder-suicide in Memphis, Tennessee in 1985.

Tom’s siblings cried as the court heard about their sister’s death.

“I am continuously heartbroken,” brother David Tom said in a victim impact statement. “My sister, my friend has been taken away from me forever. I look for answers where at times there aren’t any. We as a family loved her no matter what her choices were in life.”

With tears running down her cheeks, sister Angie said Tom was “stunning, gorgeous. She was one of those people that if she walked into a room, you knew she was there.

“I could almost forgive [Patel] if he had just killed her,” she said. “I can’t forgive him for what he did after. He left her like garbage.”

The court was told Tom was generous with her time, helping the disadvantaged in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Tom was a hard working, high track, high-priced prostitute who was proud of her half-million-dollar West End condo, her Mercedes and her beloved pet beagle, Hamilton remembers.

“She was a gentle woman and could also diss like the rest of us. However, she always displayed respect and dignity to all she met,” Hamilton says.