On April 17, a gay woman was attacked and seriously injured in Edmonton by a group of young men hurling homophobic slurs. Still more disturbing is the fact that police waited five days before opening a case file on the assault and launching a formal investigation.
EDMONTON — The Edmonton Police Service Hate Unit is investigating after an Edmonton woman says she was kicked in the face when she and her friends refused the advances of a group of young men.
The Saturday night encounter turned violent after one of the women said they weren’t interested because they are gay.
The young men began to badger the women using homophobic slurs.
Shannon Barry and her friend Meghan Fox confronted the group. Barry says she was drunk and doesn’t remember much — just stepping out of a cab to walk the last few blocks to her friend’s Ritchie-area home after last call at Buddy’s, a gay bar on Jasper Avenue.
Fox remembers Barry stumbling to the pavement.
“When she went down to one knee, the one man wound up and kicked her square in the face,” Fox says. “It was enough to knock her out. I thought her neck was broken. I thought she was dead.”
The force of the blow broke Barry’s jaw and the bone below one eye socket.
“The impact pushed it into my face and collapsed my cheekbone,” Barry says.
The 31-year-old has since undergone reconstructive surgery. Two metal plates were placed in her face and she was told she may have permanent nerve damage.
“I screamed: ‘What are you doing. You just kicked a girl.’” Fox says. “The fact is that I’m still convinced that the one guy thought Shannon was a man.”
Barry was wearing short hair and baggy clothing that night.
The young men fled as Fox called 9-1-1.
As of Thursday there was no word of any arrests in the attack. The women describe the group of three or four as younger, perhaps in their teens.
“It’s a lot to process. It doesn’t really compute. I’m absolutely shocked by the brutality of it, that he kicked me when I was on my knees, that he took a running start like he was trying to make a field goal with my head,” Barry says. “Even with as much hate as I have in me right now, if I met him on the street today, I would never treat somebody … (she trails off). It’s just not in me to be capable of that kind of violence.”
Barry is upset at the police response to the attack. She says she had little contact with police until Thursday.
Barry wonders why such a serious assault file wasn’t dealt with sooner.
“I didn’t even interact with the police the next day. I didn’t even get a case file until (Thursday) evening,” she says. “They wanted to assure me that everything was being done that could be done to find these boys, that the case is being taken seriously, that it’s being treated as a hate crime, and I appreciate that, I do,” Barry says. “But as far as the way I was treated up until now, it’s inexcusable.”
Police Chief Mike Boyd would not confirm reports that the investigation into the incident actually began Thursday — five days after the alleged incident took place.
“Our Hate Crime Unit is interviewing all of the people who were involved,” Boyd said. “I’m doing a review of the details and when I get all of the facts and circumstances then I’ll be able to say more about what happened.”
Emerging details about the attack are revealing troubling information about the way the Edmonton Police Service responded, reportedly disregarding standard procedure:
“Police confirmed they began investigating the incident only after a CBC News report came out Wednesday. It detailed how the officer who responded to the women's 911 call had not followed the standard police practice of calling in a dog team or helicopter to search for the attackers, who had fled after the assault.
The officer also did not interview any of the witnesses and had not filed a report, a breach of police policy.”
An internal investigation into the police response is being conducted. The woman’s attackers are still being sought.
Additional Links:• Victim says Edmonton cops delayed hate crime probe
The interracial couple targeted in a cross burning in February are leaving Hants County — saying their car being burnt to its frame last weekend was the final straw.
Michelle Lyon said the move was prompted by fear for the safety of her family after her car was fire bombed early Saturday morning. The RCMP have made no arrests in relation to the incident and are asking anyone with information to contact police.
“For safety reasons, I think it’s just best that we just leave,” said Lyon, who is white. “And for piece of mind.”
In February, a cross was burned outside Lyon’s residence, where she lives with her partner Shayne Howe, who is black. The incident brought national attention to the question of race relations in Nova Scotia.
Two distant relatives of Lyon’s have been charged with committing a hate crime in relation to the incident.
Justin Rehberg, 19, will be going to trial Oct. 18 in provincial court in Windsor after pleading not guilty this week to the charges he faces.
His brother, Nathan Rehberg, 20, will enter a plea May 18.
“When they were caught, we thought, ‘We can get over this,’” said Lyon, referring to the arrests of Justin and Nathan Rehberg. “It gradually started going back to the routine of things, and to a normalcy ... Tensions were going down, at a low. Then my car gets burned, and then boom — we’re right back where we were when this all started.”
Lyon is not sure where her family will re-locate, but has certainly ruled out one area.
“It will not be in Hants County. We will not re-locate in Hants County,” she proclaimed. “We will be going away.”
And within hours of the news that the couple’s car had been torched, what does Justin Rehberg do? Why, he does what any person facing serious charges for hate-related arson would do – he joins a Facebook group created by a mysterious “John Smith” that instructs the couple to “STFU” and includes the taunting description, “Adding fuel to the fire”:
Police are currently investigating the car burning. Perhaps some of the Rehberg brothers’ friends deserve a closer look.