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Man who urinated on Komagata Maru memorial is mentally ill, police say

A man visits Coal Harbour's Komagata Maru monument in Vancouver, Thursday, January 16, 2014. The Vancouver police will not be laying charges against a man photographed allegedly urinating on the monument.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The man who urinated on the Komagata Maru memorial in Coal Harbour, angering members of the South Asian community who saw the act as a hate crime, is a mentally ill, drug-addicted Downtown Eastside resident who needs the health system, not the justice system, says Vancouver's top cop.

Police Chief Jim Chu made his comments at a news conference on Thursday, standing alongside Mayor Gregor Robertson, Councillor Kerry Jang and a number of leaders from the South Asian community.

Chief Chu said when investigators spoke with the man again on Wednesday, "it appeared even more the case that this person was afflicted with a serious mental disorder. He is an illicit drug user and would fit into the category studied recently in the Downtown Eastside of a severely addicted, mentally ill person."

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A Vancouver Police Department investigator penned a short statement of apology, which the suspect signed on Wednesday, Chief Chu said. The statement reads: "I am sorry for what I did that day at the monument. I didn't want to hurt anyone."

Mr. Robertson called the desecration "a disgusting and disgraceful act, but clearly performed by someone who didn't know what he was doing."

The outrage stemmed from a photograph that began circulating early last month, appearing to show a man urinating on the commemorative monument to the Komagata Maru. The Asian Journal reported that the man in the photo had attempted to engage in a physical altercation with two men, one of whom was visiting from India, prior to urinating on the monument. It was one of those men who then took the photo, the Asian Journal reported.

The photo was quickly disseminated online and particularly enraged members of Vancouver's South Asian community. Sarah Blyth, chair of the Vancouver Park Board, issued a statement on behalf of the commissioners saying they were "saddened and deeply offended by this disgraceful act."

The Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver harbour on May 23, 1914, with 376 passengers onboard. The passengers, Indian British subjects, were denied entry to Canada under the continuous journey regulation. After being anchored in Vancouver for two months, they returned to India, where about 20 of the passengers were killed by police as they disembarked.

On Tuesday, the VPD said a member of its Hate Crime Unit had investigated the urination incident and spoken with the suspect, but the department would not be recommending charges as the act did not constitute a criminal offence.

"While the actions of an individual may be offensive and disrespectful, it does not make those actions criminal," Constable Brian Montague said in a news release. "Simply stated, urinating in a public place is not a criminal offence in Canada, regardless of the context, unless the elements of an offence are present as set out [in] the Criminal Code. Those elements were not present in this case."

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Constable Montague added police would not be issuing the man a bylaw ticket either: "This was, in fact, one of the options that was contemplated, but certain underlying facts and circumstances led to the conclusion that a bylaw ticket would not be appropriate."

Chief Chu on Thursday clarified that police had considered issuing the ticket but ultimately decided not to.

"We do have the discretion in terms of laying charges or serving tickets, but in this case, it would make no sense for someone that's poor, that's marginalized, to receive a ticket," he said. "They don't have to pay the ticket if they're too poor to pay it; there would not be a jail sentence arising from it."

Vancouver police records show a significant disparity in tickets issued for public urination each year. For example, officers issued 199 tickets for the infraction in 2009 and 114 in 2010, but only 10 in 2011 and nine in 2012. So far this year, two people have been ticketed for public urination, the fine for which is $250.

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Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More


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