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'No other word for it: it was a gaybashing': Smith

'No other word for it: it was a gaybashing': Smith

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Four and a half months after his jaw was wired shut to heal, Jordan tells Xtra West what happened
Jordan Smith made headlines last September when he was allegedly attacked for holding hands with another man in the gay village.

Smith’s jaw was broken in the alleged assault and had to be wired shut for a month and a half to heal.

Michael Kandola is now facing one charge of aggravated assault in connection with the incident.

None of the allegations in this interview has been proven in court. A preliminary inquiry into the case is scheduled to begin Jun 10 in provincial court on Main St.

In the weeks following his alleged assault, Smith withdrew from public sight to heal and start a new job. Now he has come forward in this exclusive interview with Xtra West to share his take on what happened the night he was allegedly gaybashed.

According to Smith and the man he was holding hands with that night, Charles McKay, Kandola and four of his friends “swarmed” them, yelling, “You fucking faggot!”

Smith says he barely had time to register they were in trouble when a punch knocked him to the ground, unconscious.

“They hit him and he just fell over like a tree,” McKay says in his first public interview since the incident. “They stood over him still, yelling things.”

Kandola’s lawyer offers a different version of events. Though he concedes there was “a tussle” he claims video footage from that night suggests Smith turned back to confront his alleged attackers.

And he maintains that Kandola never made any homophobic remarks.

“He harbours absolutely no ill will towards the gay community,” says lawyer Danny Markovitz.

Markovitz declined Xtra West’s repeated requests for an interview with his client.

Smith says he has no doubt the alleged attack was a gaybashing and should be designated a hate crime in the event of a conviction. “I don’t even have any reservation about that,” he says.

He also says the education system has to change if more gaybashings are to be prevented.

Smith and McKay sat down with Xtra West Jan 12 to discuss the incident and its aftermath. Here is an excerpt from that interview.



Xtra West: Take me back to Sep 27. What happened that night? Walk me through it.

Jordan Smith: We’d come downtown to a birthday party at the Oasis. We were staying at the Sandman Hotel.

We went to the Oasis, we hung out there for maybe a few hours. We walked down the street, went to Celebrities for half an hour, not even. It was dead so we decided to walk down to the Odyssey. It was dead… So we went down to the Blenz at Davie and Granville. It was about 11:45 pm.

We were just going to go back to the hotel and go to bed. We were walking on Davie, west I guess, towards the Sandman. As we were just crossing the street [at Hornby], we saw a group of guys.

We were holding hands.

We saw a group of, I believe, five East Indian guys.

As we crossed the street, I immediately felt —I had an uneasy feeling.

As we got closer I heard profanities.



XW: Such as?

Charles McKay: I remember clearly what the first thing said was: “What the fuck is this?”

Then they took a step towards us.

JS:
They swarmed us. They made it impossible to continue walking up the street.

CM:
They swarmed around Jordan and made it so I was on the outside.

JS: I said, “What do you mean: what is this?”

CM: They were yelling, “You fucking faggot!”



XW: What went through your mind at that moment?

JS:
I just —right at that time I was thinking, “We’re in trouble” because we were outnumbered pretty good.

There wasn’t that much time to process too many thoughts other than like a fight or flight kind of instinct. But I didn’t even have a chance to do either of them —to get away or at least to, you know.

So they swarm us. And I just kind of remember turning to the side and I just saw stars basically. I was knocked out.

I don’t remember falling down. I don’t remember getting up. I don’t remember riding in the ambulance. I was confused.



XW: What did you see, Charles?

CM: They hit him and he just fell over like a tree. They stood over him still, yelling things.



XW: What were they yelling?

CM: “You fucking faggot! Homo!” Any type of gay slur that they could think of, really.

And then the guy that punched Jordan came at me, asking, “Do you have a fucking problem?” Throwing his hands in the air.

And I said, “No, no, I don’t have a problem.”



XW:
What was going through your mind?

CM: Terrified. Scared that I was next.



XW:
What was Jordan doing?

CM: He was flat on the ground.



XW: So then what happened?

CM: Somebody that must have been watching yelled, “The cops are on their way.” So the guys took off down Hornby, running.



XW: And then what happened?

CM:
I stood there, just in shock for a second. Didn’t even go over to Jordan. Just stood there, blank-minded.

And that’s when people started coming up to help. And I obviously went to Jordan at this time.



XW: And what did you see?

CM: He was completely unconscious and when he did come to he didn’t even know what was going on at all.



XW:
How did that make you feel?

CM: I was hysterical. I was crying at this point. It was a lot of emotions going through my mind.



XW: Like what?

CM: Why would people do this, want to hurt people that they didn’t even know?

And I was worried about Jordan.



XW:
How do you feel now, Jordan, to hear all this repeated?

JS:
It’s shocking and unbelievable that in this day and age people still… An unprovoked attack on people just because they’re different than themselves.



XW
: Is it hard to hear about that night again?

JS: Not really. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. It’s more now just focusing on the fact that something will come of it. Maybe some awareness and people will start changing their prejudiced thoughts. Create some discussion. Help people think through their thoughts on gay people.

Because that’s basically what it was. No other word for it: it was a gaybashing.



XW:
Do you think it deserves a hate crime designation in the event of a conviction?

JS: Without question. I don’t even have any reservation about that.

It was obvious we were gay —two males holding hands. And from their language and their actions it’s pretty obvious it was a hate crime.

CM:
And just to make it clear: the guy that made the first comment was not the guy that hit Jordan.

JS: It was a gang, basically. They all egged each other on. They were all part of it. There’s been no discussion of all the other people involved in that event. I wonder where they are?



XW:
Did Michael Kandola, the accused, directly make any of the “fucking faggot” comments?

CM: Oh yeah. He was the most aggressive of the bunch. It was terrifying to see someone with that kind of rage over nothing.



XW:
And he said “fucking faggot” over Jordan’s prone body?

CM: Yes, yes.



XW:
Jordan, has the Crown been in touch with you?

JS: Briefly.



XW
: Do you know if they’re treating it as a hate crime?

CM: Yes, that’s what I was told when I went for my interview.

JS:
The hate crime people from the RCMP assigned to the file, they have absolutely no doubt that it should be handled as a hate crime.

My biggest hope for this whole thing is that somebody doesn’t have to die —I mean somebody already died in Vancouver from a gaybashing. I don’t think somebody else has to die. I was attacked, maliciously attacked. I hope they send a clear message to people who have these prejudiced thoughts towards gay people that it won’t be tolerated, that that type of behaviour won’t be tolerated in society.

CM: At least in this community. Can’t speak for the rest of the world yet.

Basically, don’t go to the blueberry patch if you don’t want to see blueberries. They were on Davie St. What were they doing there?

JS
: If they just wanted to pick on any random person, they could have done that. I think they probably said, “Let’s go to Davie St and look for some fags.” Why else would they be there? To go to Celebrities, the Odyssey?



XW: There’s been some rumours circulating that you tried to hit on Kandola. Any truth to that?

JS:
Not in a million years! To me, that is the most outrageous comment. Anybody who knows me…

CM: He wasn’t hitting on him, but who cares if he was. Then you’re saying that’s okay that he freaked out.



XW:
How did you feel in the weeks following the attack?

JS: I was very frustrated.



XW:
Why?

JS: I was starting a new job at WestJet Oct 4 and my jaw was wired shut. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t communicate. I could only eat food from a blender.

And before all this, I was out to friends and family, people that I care about. But I made a choice to speak about this, to bring some attention to it. But before that…

Like, professionally, at my work it was just something I did not wish to discuss. So another consequence of this assault is that, basically, I was outed to everybody.

Which may not be a bad thing now. But everybody at my work, my gym… Every time I’d go to the gym somebody would come up and talk about it.

It was worth it, going public with it.



XW:
But it was a big decision.

JS: Oh yeah. I could have just let it go. But I don’t think it would have gotten any attention if I had done that. It would just be an assault on somebody walking up the street. But there’s a bigger story to it.



XW
: Since your attack and your decision to come forward, others have had the courage to come forward with their attacks. How does that make you feel?

JS: I think it’s a good thing. I think the majority of this stuff that happens to gay people goes unreported.

I’m not visibly gay. And I think people are worried about people finding out they’re gay…

CM
: Well, I think it’s a really good thing that people are speaking out. If Jordan has inspired people to speak, that’s good. There needs to be a stop to this. Because there can’t just be people beating up other people on the street because they’re gay or different.



XW: What do you make of the recent string of incidents? Are we seeing more gaybashings?

CM
: No, people have the courage to talk about it now.

JS: They see people like myself, just a regular guy, come forward. They have the courage to come forward now.

CM
: And they’re going to speak out because it’s happening to them as well.

JS:
I think a lot of gay people have felt helpless —that it would fall on deaf ears, nothing’s going to happen, what’s the point?

There’s almost a resignation in their attitude.

This is the first time that I can remember that there’s been an outcry and all this support and really outrage at this event. The entire community rallied behind the whole situation.

I was amazed that they organized that rally. I wish I’d been there. But I wouldn’t have been able to say anything anyway. My mouth was wired shut. But I was in Calgary for training.

That’s not the way you want to start a new job but they’ve been very supportive. The chief pilot came to me the first week and said he’d seen what had happened and he was really disgusted and outraged and the entire company had their support behind me.



XW:
So, it’s been three and a half months now. How’s your jaw doing?

JS: Jaw’s fine. I had an option to get two different kinds of surgeries. I could have had it wired shut or basically had them make some incisions to realign the jaw. So my jaw is healed but it hasn’t realigned in place. The only way I could have fixed that was with surgery but it was more invasive.



XW:
And how about the rest of you?

JS: Oh, I’m fine. Mentally I’m fine. I just hope that this whole event brings some change.



XW:
How safe do you think Vancouver is for gay people right now?

CM: I can tell you I will be thinking twice before I hold somebody else’s hand on the street again.

JS:
I think it’s not openly accepted to be gay. My own personal thought is that it’s education: people don’t learn about it in school. The punch line growing up through high school —“That’s so gay” —they still use those words. It’s accepted.

Like growing up at my school in White Rock, I knew of one openly gay person and he was beaten up regularly.

CM: They don’t teach you as a young kid that it’s okay.

JS:
The provincial government, if they really wanted to, they’d discuss it in their curriculum.

Ignorance throughout time —women couldn’t vote, black people were segregated. Ignorance breeds prejudice.

I hope they start from the ground up and start educating people as kids, because that’s where it starts. I think that’s the root of the problem. Depending on where you grow up, your family… Ignorant beliefs about gay people are just being passed on, whether it be from your family or school.


XW: So what would you like to see changed in education?

JS:
I think they should introduce it into their curriculum. They were going to do that in Abbotsford but they kiboshed it because I guess they like to pretend gay people don’t exist….

I think people are ready to handle change. I think people can handle this topic.



XW:
Would you like people to come out and support you at the trial?

JS: I just think it would be nice to support the entire issue itself. Because I don’t just view this about me. Basically this was an attack on an entire group of people. This was an attack on gay people.


THE ACCUSED

 “He’s not going to make a comment, obviously, because he’s still facing proceedings,” says Michael Kandola’s lawyer, Danny Markovitz, when asked to arrange an interview with his client.

Kandola is facing one charge of aggravated assault in connection with the alleged assault on Jordan Smith, Sep 27. He was initially charged with simple assault but Crown counsel upgraded the charge after reviewing medical evidence in the case.

Markovitz says his client is “overwhelmed and upset” that the incident has been widely described as a gaybashing.

“He has never had any feelings of ill will, hatred or any other like sentiments towards the gay community or any other community,” Markovitz says.

When asked how he explains his client’s alleged use of the term “fucking faggot” after allegedly punching Smith, Markovitz says Kandola “denies ever saying anything of that sort.”

“Obviously there was a tussle,” Markovitz says, conceding one punch is visible on video footage of the incident. “We know that for certain. We know that Jordan Smith went down as a result of that blow.”

“What motivated it is difficult to say,” he continues. “We do know that East Indian males were in that vicinity.”

The video shows Smith turning back to confront his alleged attackers “probably as a result of something being said,” Markovitz claims.

But the video footage has no audio so it’s not known what was said, he adds.

Kandola has “no animosity” towards the gay community, Markovitz reiterates, adding that both he and his client wish Smith well.


THE CROWN

“I can’t really get into discussing the specifics of the prosecution or the evidence that might be called,” says Crown spokesperson Neil Mackenzie, when asked if the Crown will seek a hate crime designation if the court convicts Kandola.

Section 718 of the Criminal Code says a person convicted of a crime should get a stiffer sentence if there’s evidence their actions were motivated by “bias, prejudice, or hate” based on a number of grounds, including sexual orientation.

It is Crown policy that incidents motivated by hate “are considered serious matters and are treated as such,” Mackenzie says.

Asked if the Crown intends to present evidence at trial to support a hate crime designation in the event of a conviction, Mackenzie says his colleagues will present what evidence there is. “Because the matter is before the court it’s really not appropriate to discuss” the specifics of what evidence might be called, he reiterates.

“I certainly appreciate the interest that your readers have. We’re certainly aware of the circumstances of the incident,” he continues. “And we’ll present whatever evidence is available with regard to the alleged offence.”

Asked why Michael Kandola is the only person so far charged in connection with the incident, Mackenzie says there’s no sign of any other charges being recommended by police.

Smith and McKay say a group of East Indian men “swarmed” them Sep 27. “It was a gang, basically. They all egged each other on. They were all part of it,” Smith alleges.

“And just to make it clear: the guy that made the first comment was not the guy that hit Jordan,” McKay adds.

“There’s been no discussion of all the other people involved in that event. I wonder where they are?” Smith asks.

Asked if the others can be charged with egging on Kandola, who allegedly threw the punch, Mackenzie says it depends on the specifics of the case. “In general a person can be found to be a party to an offence if they’re found to be abetting or encouraging” its commission, he says.

“In terms of case law, the word abetting has been interpreted as encouraging someone through acts or words,” he explains.

Just being present, however, does not make someone party to an offence, he notes.


THE POLICE

Less than 24 hours after Jordan Smith was allegedly assaulted for holding hands with another man in the gay village, Insp John McKay of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) publicly described the incident as a hate crime.

“The charge we’re looking at is assault causing bodily harm,” he reportedly told CBC News. “It’s a very serious offence, but coupled with it will be a hate crime because of the actions and what was said prior to the assault going on.”

Smith says the officers who interviewed him “have absolutely no doubt that it should be handled as a hate crime.”

But the lead detective on the case won’t confirm or deny that it’s being investigated as a hate crime.

“With this matter still pending before the courts there’s not much I can say,” says Det Const Dean Wells of the VPD.

It will be up to Crown counsel to ask for a hate crime designation at sentencing if the accused is convicted, Wells points out.

Asked if police will provide Crown evidence of hate motivation to put before the court at trial, Wells says he can’t discuss any evidence before it goes to court.

Smith says he was interviewed by a member of BC’s Hate Crime unit. Wells confirms that the unit is assisting with the case.

“There were elements of the offence that suggested that it may have been motivated by hate,” says RCMP Cpl Sean McGowan of the BC Hate Crime Team.

But McGowan won’t offer any specifics. “It’s not to be difficult in any way,” he says. “It’s simply to protect the integrity of the investigation, that we don’t try things in the media. We let events unfold in the courts. It’s only because we don’t want to jeopardize any parts of the investigation.”

Wells says the investigation is going well but police are still trying to locate some witnesses.

Asked why police have not recommended charges against the other men who allegedly egged the accused on, Wells says he’s “not aware of any other evidence that somebody else participated in the assault.”

Asked if egging the accused on doesn’t potentially make the others party to the alleged assault, Wells says he would need evidence that others actively encouraged Kandola. “Right now the investigation supports the assault charge against Mr Kandola,” he says.

“The simple fact of yelling out a homophobic comment is not a chargeable offence,” he points out.

“I don’t have anything to suggest that I’m going to be asking Crown for additional charges,” he says.



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Comments

Taken two ways
I was walking down Granville street yesterday when I saw the Xtra West news box with the newspaper heasline reading "Gaybashed for This ?" wiht the picture of a man holding hands. My first thought was, are they implying there is a better reason for gay bashing.
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