3 min

Was justice served?

Gays have good reason to question justice system

“He killed a man, ” someone shouted from near the back of the crowded courtroom and finally-after years of silently tolerating a justice system that has often failed to protect gays from physical violence-many of us found our voice.

For one extraordinary moment on the morning of Dec 10, Courtroom 55 of the Superior Court of British Columbia rang out with angry protest as Justice Mary Humphries wrapped up trial proceedings relating to the beating death of Aaron Webster three years ago in Stanley Park.

Justice Humphries’ guilty finding for only one of the two Burnaby adults charged with manslaughter was difficult to swallow. But it was her decision to allow Ryan Cran to remain out on bail, only moments after convicting him of killing Webster, that triggered the outburst from the spectator gallery.

“But he’s a murderer,” someone shrieked from the back. Others quickly chimed in: “I can’t believe it” and “this is bullshit!”

“It’s all about making it convenient for the lawyers,” I said, emboldened by the bubbling frustration in the room. I was furious that the judge agreed to allow Cran bail until sentencing late in January to facilitate easier access for his lawyer. Others in the courtroom groaned loudly. “The streets will be no safer tonight,” said Jim Deva of Little Sister’s bookstore.

The judge seemed taken aback. The spectator gallery had been well behaved throughout the trial, even when she announced her not-guilty verdict for Danny Rao, the second adult charged in the beating death.

Five young men had driven into Stanley Park in a Jeep Cherokee after midnight Nov 17, 2001 with baseball bats and other weapons in the back of the vehicle. Four of the Jeep occupants were subsequently charged with manslaughter; the fifth, a younger brother of Rao’s, was not charged. No evidence was provided that he followed the other four from the vehicle to the crime scene. Two of the Jeep occupants were juveniles who earlier pled guilty in youth court and were sentenced to two years in custody and a year’s house arrest. Now, the last of the group, Cran and Rao, were having their day in court.

Justice Humphries hesitated, clearly distracted by the shouts from the gallery. She lifted her eyes from her paperwork, looked curiously in our direction then quickly finished off proceedings and adjourned the session. That left everyone in the court standing; my friend Dave and I close enough to Rao that if we were to have reached out we could have nearly touched him.

Like many around us in the courtroom that morning, Dave and I have good reason to be cynical of the justice system when it comes to brutality against gays. We’ve both had encounters with scary, homophobic men, Dave barely surviving a homophobic attack when he was a young man living in the Maritimes.

Judge JL Davies of the Provincial Court of British Columbia offered a stunning example of what we’ve come to expect from the justice system several years ago when he openly praised a man who had assaulted me and two other gays on Davie St. I had been walking home late at night and came upon a fellow from the US navy beating on a lesbian and a smaller gay man near Hamburger Mary’s. We managed to put the fellow down and hold him until police arrived.

Judge Davies said the lesbian and gay man incited the violence by complaining about homophobic remarks the basher was yelling on the street that night. The court transcript of the judge’s remarks to the US visitor note: “It appears that [the lesbian] is very sensitive and took exception to your language, and although she was the person who was talking, you hit the man. Well, how am I going to fault him for that, Madam Prosecutor? He certainly shouldn’t hit the lady, even if she wasn’t acting as one at the moment.”

Of the man charged with the three assaults, Judge Davies said, “I’m going to commend you for a bit of restraint. It would have been very tempting to bring a boot up or a fist forward, not that I would condone such conduct, but if ever anybody was looking for trouble and inviting…

“I’m granting an absolute discharge. You’re not going to go home with any record at all. I hope you have a good future.”

Now, three years after Aaron Webster was killed, it looks like two juveniles and one adult will serve time for driving to Stanley Park and hunting and killing a gay man. Was justice served this time?

Those of us from the gay community left the courtroom choked with feelings. Many of us had already experienced the fear of being chased by angry men. Now a haunting picture has emerged-with names and faces attached-of the horror of being cornered and killed by them.