Vancouver’s second murder of 2017 is raising alarm bells for some in the city’s LGBT community, given the attack’s location near the trails in Stanley Park, a long-time cruising area for gay men.
On Feb 1, police were called to the Stanley Park seawall between Second and Third Beach where a member of the public found a man suffering from apparent stab wounds. Paramedics arrived and pronounced the 61-year-old man dead on the scene.
A person-of-interest was located nearby and taken into custody for questioning, but police have not yet released any additional information about that individual or a possible motive for the stabbing.
Jamie Lee Hamilton, a member of the Vancouver Police Department’s LGBT liaison committee, says a killing so close to a popular gay cruising area understandably causes concern in the community. “People are very worried,” she says.
But police say the gay community is not in any specific danger in light of last night’s murder.
“We don’t have any information that would support that,” says VPD media relations officer Jason Doucette. “If we come across any information that would lead us to believe that any community is at risk, we would certainly reach out and we would make a warning.”
Members of the gay community may already be on edge after another violent incident in the park nearly three months ago that left an 82-year-old man severely injured in a parking lot near the Brockton Oval.
The man was found in his car, badly beaten, around 2am on Nov 16, 2016.
Police appealed to the public for assistance in that case just a day before the latest incident, asking for help identifying a man who was in the area at the time of the November attack.
Police released video of a man wearing a light-coloured sports coat, dark pants and white shoes, walking with a limp from the totem poles to the seawall.
Doucette says there’s no evidence in the November assault case indicating it was a gaybashing.
“As it stands right now these are two separate incidents and we have no reason to link them,” he says.
According to the VPD’s neighbourhood crime statistics for 2016, there were 13 assaults in Stanley Park last year.
“Violent attacks can occur anywhere,” Doucette says. “I don’t think they’re on the rise.”
Doucette says Stanley Park is safe, and he’s reticent to give out safety tips because that might characterize it as a dangerous place. He says the VPD is not telling people they should avoid going to the park.
“If that information changes, we will address [it] when it comes up. And if there’s a reason to put out a safety warning, we will, but at this point we don’t want to create fear in anybody,” he says.
Hamilton says traditional cruising places like Stanley Park remain important, even in an age of online dating sites and hookup apps.
“A lot of people, older people too, still feel shame around their orientation or their gender expression,” she notes. “Often they seek out places where they can socialize, I guess, anonymously.”
She too encourages people not to panic, and not to stop going to the trails.
“If Stanley Park is your favourite spot, don’t be fearful of going because the police have to provide for everyone’s protection,” she says. “But just be aware of people around you.”
Doucette encourages anyone with information about the two incidents to call the police. “We ask that that [members of the public] come forward with any small piece of information. Because that could be the game-changer for us.