Fourteen years.That’s how long the hate crime designation has been on the books, available to judges to apply in gaybashing cases.
That’s how often a BC judge has actually acknowledged a gaybashing and labelled it a hate crime. Half of those labels were applied in 2010.
If I were an optimist, I’d see a pattern, chart a wave, hail a sea change.
I’m not enough of an optimist to suggest a pair makes a pattern, but I do see cause for cautious celebration.
“Mr Woodward walked directly towards Mr Dowrey and drove his fist into Mr Dowrey’s face with such force that he knocked him unconscious on his feet,” Judge Jocelyn Palmer tells a packed courtroom on Nov 8.
It’s just past 9:30am and we’re only a few minutes into Palmer’s sentencing decision. Already I sense a hate crime designation. It’s a strange sensation. This tentative belief in a justice system prepared to serve, not fail, us.
Justice Joel Groves served us in April when he labelled Michael Kandola’s gaybashing a hate crime. Now Palmer seems poised to do the same.
What a difference a generation can make. Gary Gilroy was sentenced to just five years in prison for stabbing David Gaspard 65 times with six different knives in 1994. A five-foot circle of floor had to be cut out of Gaspard’s apartment where his blood had soaked through the wood. Gilroy claimed Gaspard came on to him. The Crown and the judge bought it.
As a gay man in a gay bar, Ritchie Dowrey should have been able to offer another man a drink “with impunity,” Crown prosecutor Jacinta Lawton told Palmer at Woodward’s sentencing hearing in October. But Woodward was “so offended by the suggestion that he might be gay, he was so offended by the attentions of a gay man, that he went out of his way to punch him,” Lawton said.
Almost miraculously, Palmer agrees.
When Woodward testified at trial that he was okay with being in a predominantly gay space, he was lying, Palmer decides. He was angry at Dowrey for being gay and he went out of his way to drive his fist into his face.
“It was intended to be punishing,” she says, sentencing Woodward to six years.
Six years. One year longer than Gilroy got. And an acknowledged hate crime.
“I see no other possible explanation for Mr Woodward’s assault on Mr Dowrey than virulent homophobia,” Palmer rules.
I expected the designation but am still stunned by the force of Palmer’s language. The court’s language. A language it’s finally learning to speak.
Palmer even makes a point of dismissing Woodward’s argument that he was provoked, calls his crotch-brush allegations “devoid of credibility.” Calls Woodward “a man of flawed character.” Describes his repeated assertion that “the faggot deserved it” as “abhorrent.”
Even if his assault on Dowrey revealed hostility that came as a surprise to him, Woodward has yet to show any real remorse for his action, Palmer notes.
Woodward stands quietly and puts his hands behind his back. Waits for the sheriff to handcuff him, lead him away.
He doesn’t say goodbye to anyone. He doesn’t look back.
The courtroom is quiet too. Dowrey’s friends and family hug each other hard. Few words are spoken.
We file out of the overcrowded courtroom into the hall. A few people hug Lawton. The Crown in the Kandola case looks on.
A justice system that hears us rather than vilifies us? That defends us rather than blames us when we are attacked?
Palmer’s decision sends “a strong message to our community that the justice system has been paying attention,” Qmunity’s Jennifer Breakspear tells me outside of court. The Crown sought a hate crime designation and the judge granted it.
“Those are important messages for our community, who felt for so long we didn’t have a voice, we didn’t have a champion,” Breakspear says. “I want to be optimistic and say that’s turning around.”
“Virulent homophobia,” says Ron Stipp of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere, repeating the judge’s key words.
“It’s sad that it comes down to this, but I guess if there’s justice it was served today.”