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Man found guilty in Vancouver gay-bashing case

Shawn Woodward is flanked by sherrifs as he leaves a B.C. provincial courthouse in Vancouver August 9, 2010. after being found guilty of aggravated assault. Woodward was charged after Ritchie Dowrey was punched and knocked unconscious while playing pool last March at a pub in the city's West End.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

There is a strong, new message to would-be attackers of homosexuals in a city often labelled the gay-bashing capital of Canada.

"They are being watched," declared Jennifer Breakspear, head of the "queer resource centre" Qmunity, moments after Shawn Woodward was convicted Wednesday of aggravated assault for a vicious attack last year on a patron at a local gay bar.

"If folks are looking to cause trouble on Davie [centre of the city's so-called gay village] know that the police are looking out for us, and we are looking out for each other."

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Ritch Dowrey, 62, suffered permanent brain damage in the high-profile incident that provoked hundreds of neighbourhood residents to take to the streets to protest ongoing violence against gays.

Recent statistics show Greater Vancouver has, per capita, more reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation than any other major urban area in Canada.

But Ms. Breakspear said there has been a sea change in the attitude of Vancouver police and the justice system toward assaults on gays, as evidenced by Mr. Woodward's conviction.

"The queer community is on the Vancouver Police Department's radar," she said. "They are taking these crimes more seriously. So are the courts. That's why more people are reporting them."

Indeed, Provincial Court Judge Jocelyn Palmer used strong language to denounce Mr. Woodward's crime, particularly his claim that he acted in self-defence to ward off Mr. Dowrey's advances.

Mr. Woodward, who is not gay, knocked the victim unconscious with a single sucker punch to the face. When he fell, Mr. Dowrey's head hit the floor with "a sickening thud," court heard.

The 37-year-old construction worker told patrons of the Fountainhead Pub immediately after the attack that Mr. Dowrey was a "faggot" who deserved what happened to him.

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On the witness stand, Mr. Woodward testified that the victim's hand had brushed his crotch as he went to leave.

"There is no air of reality to this evidence," Judge Palmer ruled. "His intention was to deny, deflect and dissemble. … He fabricated this story to justify his outrageous assault."

There was some evidence that Mr. Dowrey may have briefly touched Mr. Woodward's shoulder and the accused was offended by this, she said.

"He chose to go directly to Mr. Dowrey for the express purpose of punching him" to demonstrate his manliness, the judge concluded. "I find him guilty."

She quickly cut off a short burst of applause from the packed courtroom with the words: "Don't you dare."

Supporters and members of Mr. Dowrey's family tearfully embraced outside the court. While welcoming the verdict, some said it was a sad occasion nonetheless, considering the state of the victim's health.

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"I'm satisfied, but this isn't going to help Ritchie," said friend Brian Wawryshyn, who wore a B.C. Lions cap to commemorate Mr. Dowrey's long, passionate support of the Lions and the Canadian Football League. "He's not coming back."

Father of two daughters, the victim remains in a long-term care home, unable to speak clearly or care for himself.

As he left the courthouse, Mr. Woodward stared stonily ahead, refusing comment to reporters pressing him for reaction.

Michel Duprat, majority owner of the Fountainhead Pub where Mr. Dowrey was a well-known customer, agreed with Ms. Breakspear that the guilty verdict is significant.

"The more cases like this come out and convictions result, the more people realize there are consequences for this kind of homophobia," said Mr. Duprat, who joined a large number of pub employees in the courtroom. "The more precedents set, the easier the message becomes."

He said Mr. Dowrey's honour was restored by the guilty verdict. "He was always a gentleman and would never have done what the accused claimed. But sadly, it doesn't change anything. Ritchie will never be Ritchie again."

Ron Stipp, of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere, said it would be appropriate for the Crown to seek designation of the assault as a hate crime, when Mr. Woodward appears for sentencing Oct. 22.

"He's a gay basher who tried to deny it," Mr. Stipp said. "It was an attack on an innocent man who just wanted to have a game of pool with his friends. He expected to go home that night as a whole person. It's tragic."

Prosecution spokesman Neil MacKenzie said no decision has been made on whether to ask the judge to find Mr. Woodward the perpetrator of a hate crime, which can result in a harsher sentence.

"But clearly the judge used some extremely strong language," he said, "and those are factors the Crown will look at very closely."

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