Jul. 28, 2010 - Issue #771: Young at Heart
Hate crimes report reveals there is no safe city for queers
Ever since I came out, people have been asking why I don't just move to Vancouver. As the story goes, Alberta is a bad and scary place for queers, a backwards, redneck land of prejudice and violence that one ought to escape from as quickly as possible. I've always responded that our province was a more interesting place to live: there's work to be done here and I'd rather make my home in a place that needs me. Activism over hedonism, or something.
But I've also always been aware of something: Vancouver seems to have its own problems with gay bashing. I remember nine years ago when Aaron Webster was beaten and murdered by a group of teens in Stanley Park. As a teenager I wondered how that could happen in Vancouver. And why?
I visited Vancouver last year, as I do every year. This time I was training with other queer youth. They were aghast at their interpretation of Alberta's mood towards queer people. Hearing about things like Bill 44, they found us to be laughably behind on the human rights front. A day after arriving, we all found out about the young, straight ally who was bashed outside of Van's Queer Prom—a reminder Vancouver has its own problems to work out.
These are not isolated incidents. Last month, statistics Canada released a report on police-reported hate crime in 2008. The numbers are clear. Edmonton had four reported attacks in 2008 motivated against sexual orientation, Calgary had six and Vancouver reported a huge 34.
Things are not particularly great for Canada overall. Hate crimes against race, religion and sexual orientation increased by 35 percent since 2007. The largest jump was in those motivated by homophobia. Numbers of bashings remained almost the same between 2006 and 2007, but doubled in 2008. Sexual orientation accounts for 16 percent of attacks, numbering 159 incidents across Canada. Perhaps the scariest statistic of all is that 75 percent of the incidents against gays involve a violent offence, three times as many as other hate crimes.
Of course, Statistics Canada's measuring techniques has its drawbacks. Incidents are only counted if they are reported to the police and confirmed as hate crimes. Not only are many attacks never reported, but police may not record them as prejudiced attacks. For example, Shannon Barry's vicious gay bashing will not be counted in the 2010 report, since Edmonton Police Services did not identify it as such. And victims need to feel comfortable reporting the attacks, which could amount for some of the higher numbers in places seen as more gay-friendly.
Perhaps Vancouver is just better at identifying hate crimes. They've certainly had enough practice. Michael Kandola was sentenced this year for a 2008 attack along Davie Street against a gay couple. This June, David Holtzman and Peter Regier were beaten, punched and bitten outside their own downtown Vancouver apartment. Brothers Parminder and Ravinder Bassi were caught on tape smiling and running immediately after the incident. On Canada Day another homophobic attack occurred on Davie; Alexandre Tchernychev and Aaron Alexander Hahn were soon arrested.
The saddest recent case also occurred in the supposed gay village. Father of two Richard Dowrey offered to buy a drink for Shawn Woodard while both were patronizing the Fountainhead Pub, a popular queer restaurant. The two were playing pool when Woodward struck Dowrey for coming onto him. Dowrey went into a coma and has what friends referred to as catastrophic brain damage. He now requires constant care. Witnesses report that immediately after the incident Woodward made no apologies, reportedly saying, "He's a fag, he deserved it. The faggot touched me."
Those are just a few of the attacks recently coming out of Van City, Western Canada's supposed gay utopia. Come on, Vancouver. Be the city that queers across Canada want you to be. I love travelling down Davie and seeing the rainbow flags left and right on shop fronts. I'd just like to see them dripping a little bit less red. V
More stories in front »vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
Vue respects your privacy. We will not forward your personal information to any other organization except as required by law, and will use your e-mail address only to respond to your comments. We reserve the right to edit and remove comments for length, clarity and/or if they are illegal or inappropriate. Your email address is never shown to visitors to vueweekly.com. Read the whole policy at: http://vueweekly.com/privacy