Vancouver
3 min

What do they have that Aaron didn’t?

Why is BC's Attorney General intervening now?

The similarities struck me immediately.

Two teenage boys accused of viciously attacking a man in a park, pummeling him with a baseball bat, leaving him to die. The man minding his own business, defenceless, brutally beaten “for entertainment.” Aaron Webster?

No. Shingara Singh Thandi.

“They hit Mr Thandi at least three times on the head with the force of a hammer hitting a nail,” his eldest son, Jhalman, told The Voice Online.

In fact, Thandi’s killers hit him so hard they rendered his face unrecognizable, his skull fractured, his dentures shattered. He was 76 years old. He was attacked in Surrey’s Bear Creek Park on Jul 19, 2005. He never regained consciousness.

Thandi was the boys’ second target. Their first, another elderly Indo-Canadian man named Mewa Singh Bains, was attacked in the same park, in the same bathroom, in the same way the previous day. He suffered a stroke a few weeks later and died as well.

“They took an innocent defenceless old man; they did not just do it once, but twice,” Jhalman said. “It cannot be accidental and it was not just a robbery; they could have asked for the money. They were looking for a fight, and spent time looking for East Indian old men as their targets because they thought they could get away with it knowing that they don’t speak English.”

Though Crown lawyers initially charged the boys with robbery and assault, they later upgraded one charge to murder after the Indo-Canadian community expressed its outrage.

But the judge refused to convict the boys of murder. “Here it cannot be forgotten that the accused were 13 and 15 years of age at the time of the offence,” Justice William Grist ruled as he convicted the boys of manslaughter instead. “The lack of life experience and the relative inability to see serious consequences accompanying an act are hallmarks of youth.”

The Indo-Canadian community was understandably appalled.

A month later BC Attorney General Wally Oppal intervened.

“We think that the judge made a mistake in convicting these two young men of manslaughter. We think they should have been convicted of murder,” Oppal told CBC Radio, Apr 27.

“In this case,” he continued, “we think that those two individuals were waiting for the elderly men with bats and obviously knew the consequences of their actions.”

Funny, the Attorney General didn’t feel so strongly when Aaron Webster’s killers were charged with and later convicted of manslaughter–not murder.

Granted, though the two cases do have some eerie similarities, they are also very different. Webster’s killers didn’t go back the very next day to beat a second victim to the brink of death.

Then again, it probably wasn’t their first time attacking people in the park, either. Remember Ed Smith, the pop bottle collector who swears Ryan Cran and his buddies attacked him, too? Smith says a group of guys confronted him at Second Beach, pushed him down, beat him with a baseball bat and called him a “faggot” just days before Webster was killed.

Smith never did take the stand against Cran. The Crown said it was because he couldn’t positively identify his attackers. But the licence plate Smith gave police was just one number off the vehicle eventually identified as Cran’s from the night of Webster’s beating.

“These were two elderly men” who liked to go for a stroll and sit in the park, Oppal told CBC. “To have horrible things like this happen to them is just not acceptable in our society.”

Maybe that’s why the government is so keen to intervene this time. These were two elderly men, innocent people strolling around the park for their daily constitutional. Not a nearly naked gay man at the head of a gay cruising trail.

Oppal says he contacted the Crown and launched an appeal in this case after the Indo-Canadian community came to him for help.

When the gay community asked then-Attorney General Geoff Plant to investigate the Crown’s handling of the Webster case–its refusal to press murder charges or characterize it as a hate crime–we came up empty.

“You have to be careful and you have to pick and choose,” Oppal told CBC when asked how he decides which cases to tackle.

I guess Vancouver’s Indo-Canadian community presents a more powerful voting bloc than ours, and Aaron a less sympathetic figure than a sweet old man on a stroll.