Friday, January 14, 2011

Windsor Police Service takes the lead on understanding and responding to homophobic violence

Last summer, in two separate incidents, three gay men in Windsor were violently assaulted and subjected to homophobic slurs. Their cases are currently before the courts with one of the accused charged with public incitement of hatred, a crime that is rarely charged.

The Windsor Police Service has responded by implementing mandatory training on understanding and responding to homophobic violence. According to Helen Kennedy, executive director of EGALE, the WPS is the first police service in Canada to fully implement its training recommendations. The proposal has been welcomed by all members of the service including the Windsor Police Association.

The training comes at a fundamentally critical time as reported hate crimes against the LGBT community are on the increase and gay men, in particular, are at greater risk of being violently assaulted in a hate crime than members of religious minorities and racialized communities. See "Hate crimes against gays doubled in Canada". Moreover, LGBT hate crimes remain under-reported and under-classified.

Hopefully, similar training is occurring in other segments of the criminal justice system. For example, section 718.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code permits judges to increase a sentence for a crime motivated by "bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or any other similar factor." Unfortunately, this section has been rarely used by Crown Attorneys or applied by trial judges. See, for example, the case of Aaron Webster who was brutally beaten in Stanley Park in British Columbia. On this front, things may be changing. In British Columbia, for example, a new Crown policy relating to section 718.2(a)(i) came into effect on October 12, 2010. It requires Crowns to lead any evidence that a crime was motivated by hate and make 718.2(a)(i) submissions in cases where "there is a reasonable likelihood that the court will make a determination on sentencing that an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate ...." Of course, this still requires training to ensure that the cases are properly identified.

On March 11, 2010, LEAP is hosting a conference entitled Accessing Justice and Accountability in Policing. One of the issues that will be addressed is policing issues relating to the transgendered community. Constable Christine Schulz of the Ottawa Police Service and one of Canada's first transgendered police officers will be speaking.

Posted by Professor David M. Tanovich

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