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UPDATE: ‘Look at those cocksuckers holding hands,’ court hears

Defence says wrong Indo-Canadian man charged in gaybashing case

"I had blood all over my fingers," Travis James Johnston told Vancouver provincial court judge Jodie Werier, May 7. Credit: Robin Perelle photo

May 10

A witness for the defense testified May 9 that the Crown has charged the wrong Indo-Canadian man in an alleged gaybashing case in Vancouver.

Lawyer David J Taylor opened the case for the defense by calling Jeffree Douglas Hunter as a witness, during the third day of the trial of Sunjeet Singh Minhas in provincial court.

Minhas is charged with one count of assault with a weapon and one count of uttering threats in connection with the alleged Oct 9, 2011 Davie Street gaybashing of Travis James Johnston.

Hunter named another man, Wali Rahnumah, as the thrower of the umbrella that allegedly split Johnston’s lip open nearly two years ago.
Hunter, 25, testified that he has been good friends with both Minhas and Rahnumah since they all attended Burnaby South Secondary. He said that he and Rahnumah were no longer close, since he had allowed Minhas to take the blame.
The night of the incident, Hunter, Minhas, Rahnumah and Manpreet Atwal were out drinking and celebrating the birthday of their friend Aman Bains at Caprice Nightclub, Hunter told the court.

Hunter explained that he and Rahnumah left the club around 2:30am to get pizza. Hunter needed to urinate and did so in a doorway on Davie Street near the corner of Granville.

According to Hunter, while he was urinating, a male walking by yelled at him, “let me see your dick.” Rahnumah took exception to the statement and seemed angry and started yelling back, “fuck this,” “fuck that,” and “why’d you say that.”

After Hunter finished urinating and turned around to face the group of people who were now arguing with Rahnumah, he says he saw two guys and a girl.

Hunter testified that at no time did he recall hearing anyone use homophobic slurs during the exchange.

He says he noticed that Rahnumah had a small black extendable umbrella. According to him, Rahnumah said, “fuck off” and threw the umbrella, striking another man in the face. He further testified that Minhas was not present at that point.

When they heard police sirens, Hunter says that Rahnumah fled the scene and by this time Minhas had arrived looking for them.

Hunter said that he told the police that he was not involved, but that they told him to shut up when he tried to explain that Minhas was not guilty.

He told the court that Minhas was angry, “for being innocent of course.”

He further testified that after Minhas was released by the police, Hunter, Atwal and Minhas picked up Rahnumah from Science World in a taxi, where he had apparently walked after leaving the scene of the incident.

During the taxi ride home, Rahnumah admitted that he had thrown the umbrella, according to Hunter.

Under cross-examination from Crown counsel Bernie Wolfe, Hunter conceded that he had drunk several shots of liquor during the evening and was intoxicated. He also said that he had no recollection of seeing any blood after the umbrella was thrown.

Hunter said he didn’t contact the police to explain his story later because he didn’t think anything serious had happened.

Under further questioning, he acknowledged that he may have left a voicemail for the police constable who was trying to contact him.

“That rings a bell,” he told the court.

In the afternoon, Taylor asked Judge Jodie Werier to adjourn early, saying that there were only a few hours left and they would not be able to finish the trial by the end of the third day, as had been previously scheduled.

He explained further that one of the witnesses he intended to call was unavailable and that it would be helpful if he had more time to create a transcript of the police’s interview with Wali Rahnumah.

Judge Werier advised that her schedule was full and finding three more available days to continue the trial would mean a lengthy delay.

The Minhas trial has been adjourned until further court dates can be assigned.

***

May 9

The lawyer prosecuting an alleged gaybasher in Vancouver lost a witness May 8 after he inadvertently sat in the courtroom during the cross-examination of another witness.

Crown counsel Bernie Wolfe told Judge Jodie Werier he would no longer be calling Justin Syens as a Crown witness, after Syens listened to approximately 40 minutes of Steve Yu’s testimony during the second day of the trial of Sunjeet Singh Minhas in Vancouver Provincial Court.

Minhas is charged with one count of assault with a weapon and one count of uttering threats in connection with the alleged Oct 9, 2011, Davie Street gaybashing of Travis James Johnston.

Wolfe suggested that Syens’s testimony would be tainted, both consciously and subconsciously, saying it would be difficult to separate “the wheat from the chaff.”

Defence lawyer David J Taylor said that if the Crown would not call Syens, then he would call him as a defence witness. He also said that Syens would have difficulty returning as a witness at a later date.

Judge Werier denied Taylor’s request to call Syens out of order as a witness for the defence during the presentation of the Crown’s case, calling it “unorthodox” and saying she had never seen it done in a criminal trial during her 18 years on the bench.

Earlier in the morning, Steve Yu took the stand for the second day and testified that after Minhas threw the umbrella, he didn’t see any other Indo-Canadian men present on the street.

When Yu described getting a donair and running ahead of his friends and acting “goofy,” Taylor asked if he always acted so excited when he was sober.

Yu replied that he is hyper and that he really likes donairs.

Under cross-examination, Yu testified that he didn’t actually see Minhas throw the umbrella.

He explained that when he turned to see who had thrown it, Minhas had shrugged and said, “What?”

The Crown later called Vancouver Police Department (VPD) Constable Graham Webb to the stand.

Webb said he and another constable were working on the Granville strip two blocks away when they received a radio call to the incident on Davie.

When they arrived, he described seeing two clear groups of people: two men and a larger group of four or five.

Webb said he dealt with the East Indian man and the Caucasian man. He testified that both men had alcohol on their breath, were slurring their words slightly, had glazed eyes and were verbally aggressive but that they were not intoxicated.

Later on, Webb helped a third constable arrest, search and handcuff Minhas.

Webb said the second man, Jeffree Hunter, was extremely belligerent and repeatedly told Webb that his father is a lawyer.

Constable Raj Jaswal testified that when he showed up at the scene, Johnston and his group of friends all approached him to get his attention.

By contrast, he said, Minhas and Hunter were trying to avoid contact with him and attempted to walk away.

Jaswal described Johnston as being scared and nervous at first and then as wanting to remove himself from the scene.

Taylor questioned why Jaswal didn’t collect the umbrella.

“Is that standard that you don’t try to secure that important evidence?” he asked.

Jaswal explained that at that point Johnston was feeling intimidated and was no longer willing to press charges and that there was no further reason to hold Minhas in custody.

Constable Kelly Risebrough later testified that the case was assigned to her and to the VPD’s major crime section.

She said that she attempted to get a statement from Hunter on multiple occasions but that he didn’t cooperate.

Taylor led Risebrough through a line of questioning, suggesting that the defence had presented evidence to the police that Minhas was not the perpetrator, including text messages and screen shots, but that she had not properly investigated those leads.

At the end of the day, Taylor raised further objections that Wolfe was no longer calling Syens as a witness and suggested to the court that the Crown was obligated to call all witnesses, good or bad.

Judge Werier explained that the Crown had a duty only to disclose all evidence to the defence and that Taylor was free to call him as a defence witness.

The Minhas trial continues in Vancouver Provincial Court at 222 Main St on May 9.

***

May 8

The trial of alleged gaybasher Sunjeet Singh Minhas began May 7 in Vancouver Provincial Court.

Minhas, 25, is charged with one count of assault with a weapon and one count of uttering threats in connection with an alleged Davie Street gaybashing that took place in the early-morning hours of Oct 9, 2011.

In his opening remarks to Judge Jodie Werier, Crown counsel Bernie Wolfe said that Travis James Johnston and Keith Smallridge were holding hands and walking down Davie Street when they heard homophobic slurs from Minhas and another man.

According to Wolfe, the altercation was “imbued with homophobia.” He said that Minhas focused on Johnston and Smallridge because of their sexual orientation. The comments intensified until an umbrella was thrown at Johnston, giving him a bloody lip, Wolfe said.

Police arrived soon after and Minhas was released at the scene, Wolfe told the court.

Wolfe called Johnston as his first witness.

Johnston told the court that he and Smallridge had been on a casual first date the night of the alleged assault. He said the pair started at The Keg in Yaletown at 8pm and then headed to the Junction at 10pm, where they stayed until 3am.

He testified that they had two pints and four bottles of beer each over the course of the evening but that he was coherent and wasn’t impaired or intoxicated.

Johnston explained that he and Smallridge joined up with a woman and two men who they met as they headed back to Yaletown. The group of five tried to stop at a Chinese restaurant at the corner of Granville and Davie, but left when they couldn’t get a table, according to Johnston.

As he and Smallridge crossed Granville Street holding hands, Johnston said, they began to hear two men shouting homophobic slurs at them: “Look at those fucking faggots” and “Look at those cocksuckers holding hands.”

He said they turned and saw two males walking toward them “quickly” and “aggressively.” Johnston described the approaching men as being roughly the same height, one Indo-Canadian with stubble and black hair and the second Caucasian with light brown hair.

Johnston said he and Smallridge did not respond to the slurs but began walking away faster.

He said he didn’t realize that he had lost his umbrella until one of his friends told the Indo-Canadian man to give it back. The Indo-Canadian man then called him a faggot and threw the umbrella overhand at his face, splitting his lip, Johnston said.

“I saw him throw it at me, but I didn’t have enough time to react,” he told the court. “I had blood all over my fingers.”

Johnston said police arrived very quickly and handcuffed both men.

The police asked him if he wanted to press charges, but Johnston said that he felt intimidated by another man on the scene who allegedly told him “you might not want to do that” and “that would be a bad idea.”

Johnston said that throughout the whole incident he never engaged physically or verbally with the two men.

While his injury didn’t require stitches, Johnston testified that there were cuts and bruises on the outside and inside of his lip that took two weeks to heal.

Under questioning from Minhas’s lawyer, David J Taylor, Johnston denied that one of the officers had told him to “go home and sober up” before deciding whether or not to press charges. Taylor also called into question Johnston’s original description of his alleged attacker as having stubble and being “athletic.”

Johnston replied that he had been given three options: thin, athletic and heavy. He explained that he had chosen athletic, because his alleged attacker was larger than him but not obese.

Taylor questioned whether Johnston had told another officer later on that he couldn’t let this go because his name and photo had been printed in the press. Johnston said that he had said it, because he had already decided to go through with pressing charges and not because of any media attention.

The Crown’s second witness, Ashleigh Anne Vogstad, testified that she, Steve Yu and Justin Syens had been drinking at 1181 Lounge on Davie Street when they were introduced to Johnston and Smallridge by the lounge’s owner.

She said that she had between four and six drinks between 5pm and 3am and later conceded to the defence’s lawyer that her memory of the evening was “patchy.”

She described hearing men shouting, “faggot.” She described one of the men as East Indian with brown skin and black hair.

“I felt threatened and scared,” she told the court.

She explained that she tried to defuse the situation by telling the two men to go on their way and to have a good evening. The two were walking away when Smallridge yelled back at them, she continued.

The Crown’s third witness, Steve Yu, said he had three drinks that night but was “pretty much sober.”

Yu said the five of them were walking down Davie when two men started yelling at them about “fucking homos” and “fucking faggots.”

Yu described one of the men as being around 28 years old, six foot one and 200 pounds, East Indian with a scruffy look and black hair and wearing jeans.

He described the second man as Caucasian, six feet tall, 200 pounds and between 25 and 28 years old.

He said that one of the men pointed at all of the men in his group, called them faggots and said, “Don’t let me see you on these streets again or I’m going to kick your ass.”

Yu testified that after the police arrived and had him in custody, Minhas smirked at him and mouthed directly twice, “I’m gonna get you.”

Minhas smiled slightly and shook his head in disbelief during parts of Yu’s testimony.

Yu’s testimony continues in Vancouver Provincial Court at 222 Main St on May 8