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The Globe and Mail

Attack on Vancouver gay man a hate crime, Crown says

Shawn Woodward is flanked by sherrifs as he leaves a B.C. provincial courthouse in Vancouver August 9, 2010. after being found guilty of aggravated assault. Woodward was charged after Ritchie Dowrey was punched and knocked unconscious while playing pool last March at a pub in the city's West End.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Moments after he laid out gay pub patron Ritch Dowrey with a single, vicious punch, Shawn Woodward strode over his fallen victim, walked out the door and repeatedly told those who apprehended him that Mr. Dowrey was "a faggot" who "deserved it."

On Friday, prosecutor Jacinta Lawton urged a provincial court judge to sentence Mr. Woodward, a first-time offender, to six years to seven years in jail, on the grounds that what he did was a hate crime.

The Criminal Code permits judges to boost the normal sentence for an offence if it is found to be a crime motivated by hate, based on a victim's sexual orientation.

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"The term 'faggot' is a derogatory word for homosexuals," said Ms. Lawton, referring to Mr. Woodward's words outside the pub. "They are not a statement of someone who is bewildered, but of someone who was satisfied with himself for a job well done."

Evidence indicated that Mr. Woodward punched the victim after he briefly put a hand on his shoulder and offered to buy him a drink.

"He was angered by the attention of a gay man and that's why he did what he did.… [It was motivated]by hatred that comes somewhere from within Mr. Woodward," Ms. Lawton told Judge Jocelyn Palmer.

Mr. Dowrey, 62, suffered permanent brain damage in the attack and will need high-level care for the rest of his life.

Defence lawyer Joel Whysall called for a penitentiary term of two years, arguing the assault was not premeditated and, while "reckless," it was not intended to cause the serious injury that resulted.

"Often, people receive blows and are not knocked unconscious," Mr. Whysall said. "What Mr. Woodward did was spontaneous, not borne out of deep-seated hatred towards homosexuals."

Mr. Woodward was convicted of aggravated assault last August.

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The case has had a high-profile in a region dubbed the gay-bashing capital of Canada, after a recent Statistics Canada report.

Outside the courthouse, gay activist Ron Sepp said the community is pleased the Crown is seeking a hate-crime designation for Mr. Woodward's assault.

"We don't deserve to be taunted, yelled at or punched, just because we are gay people," said Mr. Sepp, of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere.

Asked by Judge Palmer if he wished to say anything before she hands down her sentence, Mr. Woodward, a 37-year-old carpenter with two children, shook his head. "No, thank you," he replied.

The judge said she needed time to consider arguments from both sides, and to read a number of letters attesting to Mr. Woodward's character from friends, family and co-workers.

Sentencing was set for Nov. 8.

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