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Unrecognizable

Unrecognizable

One gaybasher, two lives derailed
I don’t recognize Shawn Woodward when he walks into court on Oct 22.

I think it’s the beard that throws me off. That and his suddenly shrunken demeanour.

Where before his conviction he looked cocky and confident, the man that slinks into the sentencing hearing looks deflated and depressed.

Sporting an unkempt buzz cut and a full beard flecked with grey, Woodward seems several inches shorter, like a punctured balloon that has lost most of its air.

I watch as the sheriff directs Woodward to take a seat in the first row until his case is called. He sits quietly, his eyes alternately cast down or staring straight ahead. I imagine he must sense the community all around him, our grief, our rage, our incredulity.

It’s 9:30am and almost every seat in courtroom 514 is taken, all of us waiting to see if Crown counsel will seek a hate crime designation in The Fountainhead gaybashing case.

She does.

“It is very important that the community hear from our courts that these kinds of offences won’t be tolerated,” Jacinta Lawton tells the judge.

Woodward was “so offended by the suggestion that he might be gay, he was so offended by the attentions of a gay man, that he went out of his way to punch him,” Lawton says.

As a gay man in a gay bar, Ritch Dowrey should have been able to offer another man a drink “with impunity,” she continues.

Instead, Woodward knocked him backwards with such force that Dowrey has never been the same, stepped over his prone body and repeated at least 15 times that Dowrey was a “faggot” and “deserved it.”

“These are the statements of someone who was satisfied with himself on a job well done,” Lawton says.

To suggest this was anything but a hate crime is to “strain common sense,” she adds, asking the judge to send Woodward to jail for six to seven years.

I watch Woodward flinch and shake his head ever so slightly each time Lawton says hate crime. I watch his shoulders hunch in the defendant’s chair.

Unrecognizable.

Not unlike the man whose life Woodward’s self-loathing destroyed.

I visited Dowrey at his care home in Langley the day before his attacker’s sentencing hearing.

Dowrey can’t remember the attack.

He can’t remember his friends at The Fountainhead.

He can’t remember his life.

I ask him how old he is; “60-something,” he tells me, unable to be more precise. “I don’t remember a thing from the 40s and 50s,” he adds.

I ask him why.

“I don’t know,” he replies, watching me.

Dowrey is sitting in the recliner his Fountainhead friends bought for him. “It’s very nice,” he says. “Very nice.”

I tell him how much his friends miss him. “Thank you, thank you,” he says.

There are moments of memory, flashes of putting pieces together. He tells me he wants to live downtown. I ask him if he remembers Davie St. At first he says no, then suddenly he remembers it’s “the main street of the West End,” and that he used to go to a place called Queen’s after work for a beer before BC Lions games, then walk down the hill to his apartment.

“I lived there for years and years and years,” he says.

“I hope I’ll get better one of these days,” he says, pointing at himself. “I hope so.”

“I just have to get this leg fixed,” he says.

I manage not to cry in front of him.

Two lives derailed by one man’s determination to prove his heterosexual manliness at all costs.

At least the Crown is seeking a hate crime designation and the judge seems likely to grant it. That’s two for two in 2010 for anyone keeping track of BC’s Crown counsel. A leap forward, possibly even indicative of a new approach from our attorney general.

A victory.

Just a tough one to celebrate as I watch two men who, in a just society, would both still be recognizable.

Comments

Bravo
Thanks for this wonderful coverage Robin. This makes us all realize how much work there's still left to do to call our society just and fair for everyone. I barely managed not to cry while reading your article.
Brava
Brava to Judge Lawton for calling a hate crime, to Dowrey's friends for staying on board to support him even when he is so damaged, and to you, Robin Perelle, for your sensitive reporting.
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