Editorial 14 - April 2005 - Aaron Webster Murder Trials
Aaron Webster was a gay man who was brutally beaten to death in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2001. Concern has been expressed that the men charged with killing Aaron Webster were not charged with hate crimes. The facts of the case seem to support the idea that the murder might have been a hate crime.
There has been a public protest over the way the men were prosecuted. We ecnourage those who are concerned about the trial of the murderers to write the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General in British Columbia. Contact information for the British Columbia Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General appears below:
Mr. Rich Coleman
Minister of Public Safety & Solicitor General
PO BOX 9053
STN PROV GOVT
VICTORIA BC V82 9E2
We have a copy of a letter sent by a concerned individual to Mr. Coleman. The letter appears below. While the letter here may provide a few ideas of what may wish to say to the Solicitor General in British Columbia, we encourage you to write personal letters.
This is a letter regarding the prosecution of those charged with the murder of Aaron Webster.
I am concerned that the men who were tried for the murder of Aaron Webster were not charged with a hate crime. Based on the understanding I have of the murder, there appears to be some evidence that the men could have been charged under the provisions of hate crimes legislation.
I would like to see a public review of how the crime was investigated by the police and was handled by the prosecutors. The purpose of the investigation would be to determine why the men were not tried under provisions of hate crimes legislation.
I would also like the public prosecutors in British Columbia given the direction that they are to use the full extent of hate crimes legislation, when they believe there is evidence to support that. There could be reluctance to charge people with hate crimes, if it is believed the Government will not support a prosecutor who chooses to charge an individual with a hate crime.
Until the full facts are public, people may not be certain if justice was done. I believe a public review is need to help the gay community understand justice was done and that the laws of the land are adequate to protect the gay community. Asking prosecutors to charge people with hate crimes when there is evidence of a hate crime will also send a message that gay bashing and murdering people because they are members of minority groups is not acceptable.
Thank you very much for your consideration of this concern.
In May of 2005, a response from Mr. Geoff Plant, the Attorney General of British Columbia was forwarded to Stop Homophobia. Mr. Plant's response appears below:
MAY 1 3 2005
I have received for reply your letter of April 5, 2005, to the Honourable
Rich Coleman, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, in which
you express your dissatisfaction with the prosecution in the case of
R. v. Ryan Cran.
Our criminal justice system is designed to be just and fair. A fundamental
means of ensuring both justice and fairness is to ensure that decisions made
about a case and an accused are free of any improper interference, including
political interference. This principle finds its highest expression in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which requires that decisions about an accused in a criminal case must be made by a fair and independent tribunal.
To ensure that this principle operates in practice, our system is designed so
that the major participants in it make decisions independently of each other.
The police, Crown counsel and the judiciary each operate independently of
each other so that when someone is investigated, prosecuted and tried for
crimes, they are treated fairly at each stage with no improper influence being
exerted by any person or group.
Even in the most heinous crimes, Crown counsel must remain guided by the
governing principles of independence and fairness. In this case, the media
coverage focused on two areas of criticism: the fact that the Crown did not
approve a charge of murder at the outset, and the fact that Crown did not
proceed with this matter as a "hate crime".
When the Crown decides what charge to proceed with, they must consider all
the available evidence and lay a charge which can be fairly supported by the
evidence. The same is true when the Crown makes submissions to the court �
they must ensure that every submission is supported by the evidence. In the
case of those charged with the death of Aaron Webster, there was not sufficient
evidence to charge murder; there was, however, sufficient evidence to proceed
with a manslaughter charge. Further, there was no evidence that Ryan Cran's
actions were motivated by hatred based on the sexual orientation of
Aaron Webster. It is important to bear in mind that, after examining all the
evidence, the court itself concluded the motive in this case remains obscure.
The police conducted a comprehensive investigation where many people
connected to Mr. Cran were interviewed in relation to a motive for the crime.
The police went so far as to equip an acquaintance of Mr. Cran with a listening
device to record his conversations. There was no evidence Mr. Cran was ever
concerned with anything other than "peeping Toms," and there was no
evidence that Mr. Cran ever mentioned a concern with gay people.
Further, the media has continually referred to the "hate crime" provisions of
the Criminal Code of Canada in relation to this case. The term "hate crime" is
not found in the Criminal Code. There is a section of the code, Section 718.2,
which says in certain circumstances there are aggravating factors that can be
taken into account in sentencing. These factors may be considered to increase
sentences beyond those that would otherwise be imposed. Aggravating factors
include "evidence that the offence was 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."
Because of the lack of evidence that the crime was motivated by bias, prejudice
or hate based on sexual orientation, Section 718.2 was not applicable in this
case. However, it is important to note that the Crown listed eleven aggravating
factors to support their submission for a higher sentence. Each aggravating
factor must be weighed equally and independently. All of the eleven
aggravating factors were based on the evidence before the court and the court
accepted many of these factors in arriving at a sentence.
All aspects in the case, including the sentence proposed by experienced
counsel for the Crown, were reviewed by the sentencing judge on the basis
of the applicable law. The judge has prepared reasons for her decision.
The Reasons for Sentence are available on the Web site of the
Supreme Court of British Columbia at:
Reading the decision may provide you a better sense of the complex factors the
judge considered in determining the sentence, as well as provide you more
confidence that the matter was thoroughly reviewed with the interests of
society considered carefully.
Thank you for sharing your perspective on this important matter.
Attorney General and
Minister Responsible for Treaty Negotiations
pc: The Honourable Rich Coleman
More information about Aaron Webster can be found on the Stop Hate 2000 Aaron Webster Memorial page.