What’s with the Crown?

Charges in Webster killing are puzzling

The police say they’ve caught them all. Four men have now been charged with manslaughter in the killing of Aaron Webster on Nov 17, 2001.

Xtra West will follow them through the justice system and report back to you in meticulous detail-as we have done in the two years since Webster died after being severely beaten with a baseball bat and/or pool cue, as police have previously detailed. We were the only local media outlet who cared enough about this case to be at the bail hearing on Tuesday.

The case will no doubt be an eye opener for our community, as we follow how the Crown prosecutes it. As we see if they continue the police lead in treating it as a homophobic hate crime rather than a bunch of suburban boys, coincidentally with a baseball bat, who were somewhere they shouldn’t have been but didn’t mean to kill Aaron. As we watch whether the judges understand the depth of our community’s fury over this killing and over the homophobic violence so many of us experience in our lives-and our insistence that an example be set for all other young people to see and, we hope, learn from.

As a newspaper and as a community we’ve been patient to a fault for two years so that police could investigate the crime and seek the highest possible charges. Some in our community were told the detective work was taking so long because police wanted to be able to support a murder charge, not merely manslaughter or aggravated assault.

Well, we ended up with the Crown settling for manslaughter charges anyway.

And some people are clearly furious about it.

Is that what a gay life is worth? they ask. If Aaron had been straight, would the charges have been tougher? And while we’re at it, why was the first juvenile not raised to adult court? And does the Crown intend to continue treating this as a homophobic hate crime?

Make no mistake, it’s hard to imagine that people could take a night trip from Burnaby to Stanley Park with a baseball bat or pool cue unless they intended to use them for something other than a game of baseball. It’s hard to imagine that they would carry a weapon into an area known for gay cruising without realizing their potential for wreaking profound violence. It’s hard to imagine hitting somebody about the head and throat without forming a reasonable expectation that it could lead to death.

So, the Crown’s decision is, on the surface of it, puzzling.

But we must all remember that people are innocent until proven guilty-that’s a cornerstone of our version of democratic justice. People have been wrongly arrested for murder in our society, so we must guard against a lynch-mob mentality. And the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt any charges that they do lay. It’s clearly easier to prove manslaughter than it is to prove second-degree murder.


Then there’s the issue of provocation. Some have wondered if the Crown fears that Aaron’s being naked is going to be trotted out to suggest that he provoked some nice boys into going further than they ever intended. That assertion is homophobic in its own right, and self-loathing when made by someone in our own community. A naked man’s life is as valuable as one wearing a tuxedo. Being gay, actively cruising, or enjoying a state of nakedness do not constitute provocations to violence and any suggestion to the contrary should be met with the heartiest condemnation.

The Crown is, as usual, silent and unwilling to explain its decisions except to note that they are not subject to politics. Sure, sure.

And they say they are afraid of jeopardizing the case by discussing details. Fair enough.

And that it will all come out at the trials. Yep.

Of course, the trials could be a couple of years off.

We will keep you informed. We will publish the facts of the case as they are presented-here and at www.xtra.ca.

Like you, we sure hope the Crown vindicates itself. Those closest to Aaron Webster are feeling terrible anguish at the judgement calls made so far by the Crown.

Let’s remember: we have the right to question in a democracy. We have the right to comment, to write letters, to demonstrate on the streets.

We will make the world safe for each of us.

We owe it to Aaron Webster. We owe it to ourselves. Most importantly, we owe it to the next generation of gay kids.

Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.

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