The fatal gay-bashing of a Vancouver man in Stanley Park was a hate crime, reminiscent of Nazi Youth attacks in pre-war Germany, a Youth-Court judge declared yesterday.
As a result, in a rare judicial move, Judge Valmond Romilly went beyond a prosecutor's recommendation and imposed the maximum sentence -- three years -- on an underage teenager for his role in the death of Aaron Webster, killed by a gang of youths wielding golf clubs and baseball bats.
"It's entertainment," he told police who asked why the teenagers often headed to Stanley Park late at night to beat up people they called "peeping toms." He pleaded guilty to manslaughter in July.
Mr. Webster, 41, was attacked two years ago in an area of Stanley Park frequented by gay men looking for anonymous sex.
Crown lawyer Sandra Dworkin had recommended a sentence of 20 to 32 months in custody for the youth, now 19.
But Judge Romilly said that was not enough.
"He was part of a thug brigade stalking innocent victims for their own entertainment," he told the court as members of the young man's family looked on.
"This was an egregious and extremely violent act. It warrants a sentence that must reflect the abhorrence of civilized society at such a heinous crime."
Three years -- two in custody and one under outside supervision -- is the maximum punishment for manslaughter provided by the Youth Criminal Justice Act. After the sentence was imposed, the youth, who cannot be identified, was led away in handcuffs by court sheriffs. He showed no emotion.
Judge Romilly rejected Crown submissions that the beating of Mr. Webster was not a hate crime, based on the youth's claim that he and his friends were not looking for gays. Rather, the teenager told police, they were out to get "peeping toms" who spied on couples in cars parked at Stanley Park.
The judge noted that Mr. Webster was naked, except for socks and shoes, when he was savagely attacked and wondered how the attackers could be so naive as to fail to notice they were in an area of Stanley Park "frequented by gays.
And even if the youth were believed, an act demonstrating hatred toward peeping toms was also a hate crime, Judge Romilly said.
According to the youth's confession to police, the group of Burnaby teenagers went to Stanley Park after having a lot to drink "looking for those peeping-tom guys." As they had on three previous visits, they hid in the bushes, armed with bats and golf clubs.
"We saw him [Mr. Webster]there naked. I ran after him and I hit him," he recounted. Others in the group then killed the victim as he lay unconscious on the ground.
Outside the courtroom, family representative Fred Norman, a cousin of Mr. Webster, said it was too bad that the youth could receive only a 3-year sentence.
"What he did warranted a much heavier punishment, maybe 10 to 15 years to think about what he did," Mr. Norman said.
But Jack Harman of West-Enders Against Violence Everywhere hailed the verdict as "a great victory for the gay community," because of the maximum penalty imposed and the finding that Mr. Webster's killing was a hate crime.