|Judge gets it
story by Jeremy Hainsworth /
Dec 25 2003
News that a judge ruled Aaron Webster’s killing a hate crime—and gave the convicted youth the maximum sentence possible—brought a sense of relief to Vancouver’s queer community.
In fact, it brought smiles to many faces as people realized the courts had once more recognized queers as a minority deserving protection from hate-motivated violence.
“About time,” says Doug Millar, walking his dog, Monty, on Davie St. “Hate crime. That’s what it is.
“Maybe now gay and lesbian people will be able to have some dignity in their lives,” he says. “That really is uplifting.
“We’re not going back into the closet, we’re not going back in time, we’re not recriminalizing. We’re saying this is something we’re going to celebrate every single day and that judge has just agreed with it—so get used to it, people.”
Judge Valmond Romilly handed a sentence of three years to the first youth accused of manslaughter in the Nov 17, 2001 beating death of Webster. The youth pleaded guilty in July. Two years of his sentence will be spent in jail.
Webster was attacked by a group of people in Stanley Park, police have repeatedly told the public. He was found clad only in boots by his friend, Tim Chisholm. He died in Chisholm’s arms as ambulance attendants tried to save him.
Police have maintained from the very beginning that the killing was a hate crime. But the Crown surprised and angered many in the gay community when it failed to do the same at a Nov 28 sentencing hearing. And now the judge has taken a stronger stand than the Crown in passing judgement.
Romilly dismissed the Crown’s earlier claim that it could not prove the crime was a hate-motivated gaybashing.
The judge drew high praise from the community for his decision.
Jack Herman of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE) called Romilly enlightened.
“I think the judge saw through all of the inability of the Crown to present this [as] a hate crime,” Herman says. “I think the Crown’s case wasn’t prepared properly.”
He adds,“It’s a great victory for the gay community. This was a gaybashing, pure and simple.”
Now Herman is hoping the next judge will also throw the book at the other three people accused in connection with Webster’s death, if they, too, are found guilty.
He’s still amazed by the judge’s decision in this case. “You can be brought to justice.
I thought it would never happen.
“It’s going to send a message to a younger community of straight people that maybe it’s not open season on fags. There’s repercussions,” Herman adds.
WEAVE co-founder John Christenson is repulsed by the youth’s apparent reaction to the sentence.
“He showed absolutely no emotion—even when they put the cuffs on him,” Christenson says. “He seems to think this is like running over a dog, a parking ticket. I don’t think he’s ever adjusted to the sensibility of what he’s done. He will now.”
On Davie St, there was surprise and welcome relief at the decision.
“Fabulous!” exclaims former Pride Society vice-president Randy Atkinson. “That’s amazing. Wow. I am so pleased!
“Finally, we have a strong message that’s going out,” Atkinson says. “Oh fuck, that is so good. I was afraid it was going to get buried.”
Jim Deva submitted a victim impact statement on behalf of the gay community as part of the sentencing proceedings.
“So the judge got it,” Deva says, hearing about the sentence.
Now he’s hoping that the Crown learns from the judge and applies it to the remaining three cases. “This sets a precedent,” he says.
“That is wonderful,” he continues. “I just thought it would be three months house arrest.”
Finn Mollerup at Gay-Mart on Davie St was thankful for the news.
“Thank God it’s a hate crime,” Mollerup says. “But I think he should have got a damned sight more than that. I’m glad he got the maximum. I think it should have been first degree murder.”
Saying his family has been through hell, Webster’s cousin, Fred Norman, says he thinks the sentence should have been longer, too.
“This is a very serious crime,” Norman says. “It warranted a longer sentence.
“We would like this individual to sit for a long time in jail to think about what he’s done and the fact that he never came forward [for] a year and a half,” he continues.
While the family is satisfied with the hate crime designation and the youth being given the maximum sentence, Norman says he still would have liked a longer sentence. Ten to 15 years would have been justified, he says.
The crime and the court appearances have been hard on Webster’s sister and mother, he continues. “They’ve been robbed of a family member. It’s been very hard to them.
“There’ll be never any closure.”
Ryan Cran, 21, and Danny Rao, 22, return to court in April for a preliminary hearing on charges connected with the case, while a second youth returns to court in the new year for further hearings. All three are charged with manslaughter—and presumed innocent in Canada’s judicial system.