18 June 2011

Transgender shooting victim believes attack was a hate crime

This story is a few days old, but it was recently reported that on June 14th a transgender woman in Halifax had been shot in her apartment after answering the door to men who initially identified themselves as police officers. The victim, Chris Cochrane, reported that when she tried to shut the door after seeing that the men were not police, they shouted "let us in, tranny faggot, let us in," and fired several shots through the door, resulting in Cochrane being wounded in the arm. When the story broke, police, who had not yet spoken to the victim, dismissed claims that the attack was a hate crime. Cochrane has since been interviewed, but police continue to disagree that the incident meets the criminal code definition of a hate crime:

NATIONAL NEWS / Victim discharged from hospital after bullet wound
Gwyneth Dunsford / National / Friday, June 17, 2011

A Halifax trans woman is recovering from an attack in which 10 bullets sprayed into her suburban apartment on June 14. Chris Cochrane’s arm was injured in the shooting that she says was motivated by trans phobia.
Two men yelling “tranny faggot” tried to enter the apartment on Evans Ave in Halifax around 1:00 am. 

When Cochrane and her roommate tried to close the door, she says they shot through the door using a handgun and a shotgun.

“They were 100 percent trying to kill us,” said 25-year-old Cochrane. “You don’t shoot with a shotgun for nothing.”
Cochrane was released from the hospital yesterday with a smartphone-sized wound and 76 stitches in her right arm. She has full range of motion in the limb, but is sure to be left with a sizable scar.

Cochrane, who is also known by her drag name Elle Noir, did not recognize her attackers. She described one as wearing a black hoody and red bandana. Cochrane is certain the attack was a hate crime, but Halifax Regional Police do not agree.

“We are exploring the possibility that there are other motivating factors behind this incident,” Cst Brian Palmeter said June 15. “Certainly at this point, based on the information that we have, we don’t believe this is a hate crime.”
Palmeter says the attack on Cochrane does not fit the definition of a hate crime in the Criminal Code as a “public incitement of hatred.” He says that while the attack on Cochrane may meet the textbook definition of a hate crime, the police can only enforce the Criminal Code definition.

“[The police] have their version, I have my version,” says Cochrane. “The reason they’re saying it’s not a hate crime is because ... they can’t believe something this drastic would be considered a hate crime.”

On June 15, Cochrane was interviewed by police. She says she waited in a freezing room for seven minutes, before police officers asked her the same questions repeatedly.

“It felt more like an interrogation than an actual interview,” said Cochrane.

Palmeter says the victims of serious crimes are always interviewed the same way, to collect video and audio for use in court.

“When we conduct an interview we need to collect as much information as possible,” says the media relations officer. “[It’s] not our intention to cause the victim any discomfort.”

Police have said the attack on Cochrane was targeted, but have not disclosed how they reached that conclusion. Given Cochrane’s gritty neighbourhood, some have assumed that the shooting was drug-related, a claim Cochrane refutes.

“The only drugs we have in our apartment are estrogen and testerone-blockers,” said Cochrane. “If they want to become a woman, fabulous! Come in and get the damn stuff. If they want stuff, [my roommate] has a laptop, I have stilettos.”

Reliving the shooting is difficult for Cochrane’s roommate Jeff. The 21-year-old was in bed watching a movie with his friend Brendan, when he heard someone banging on the door. Cochrane opened the door to men claiming to be Halifax Regional Police. Seeing a sawed-off shotgun, Cochrane and Jeff struggled to keep them in the hallway.
[Both men ask that their last names be withheld, because they think the attack was an LGBT-motivated hate crime.]

“I only seen one of the guns, it was a foot from my face,” says Jeff, a native of Prince Edward Island. 

“That is all I could see, the sparks coming from the gun every time they shot it. It was terrifying. As soon as I seen the gun, I [thought], ‘It’s over’. I saw my life flash before my face.”

The attackers fled after Cochrane was shot in the arm and fell to the floor convulsing, says Jeff. Brendan, held a towel over Cochrane’s wounded arm as Jeff called 911.

“There was about two litres of blood that ended up on the floor,” says Brendan. “The bullet hit an arterial vein... if the blood didn’t stop [Cochrane] could have died.”

Neither Cochran nor Jeff say they feel safe in their Fairview-area apartment and have decided to move. 

The second floor unit, was filled with friends June 16, as they mopped up bloodstains and swept fallen dry wall. The door of Cochrane’s bedroom is scarred with bullet holes.

“Seeing my stuff, seeing all me, all over the place is a disturbing thing,” said Cochrane, referring to the bloodstains on the floor.

With her injury, Cochrane can not help with the moving yet directs friends what to keep and what to throw away. Sifting through wigs and drag title crowns, they piled Cochrane’s belongings beside a black pickup truck parked outside.

Cochrane says overwhelming support from the LGBT community will help her recover from the ordeal. Cochrane has one message for trans people fearing violence.

“Be safe,” she said. “But don’t be afraid to be open. If you go back in the closet and deny yourself and deny your feelings, they’ve won.”

The rush to immediately discount hate crime allegations before even speaking to the victim is reminiscent of last year’s incident in Edmonton where Shannon Barry, a gay woman, was viciously attacked by a group of men shouting homophobic slurs. Despite the assault being immediately reported, police did not investigate it or interview Barry until 4 days later, after the story had appeared on the news. They were also quick to conclude that being assaulted after being called a “faggot” and “dyke” does not constitute a hate crime.
That police hadn’t even spoken to Cochrane before deciding that the attack was not motivated by transphobia or homophobia is troubling, to say the least. Worldwide, there is a long and disturbing history of violence against transgendered people, so much so that an international Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed in some cities to commemorate those who have been killed. Hate crimes against LGBT people in Canada more than doubled in 2008, and are more likely to involve violence than crimes motivated by race or religion. Last year, transgender student Michelle Rayner was verbally abused and punched in the face for using a women's washroom at a university in New Brunswick. Given such a history and climate, any violent attack that is prefaced with the words “tranny faggot” carries enormous weight. Hate crimes, after all, are serious not only for their impact on the victim, but because they instill fear in an entire community by communicating the constant threat of violence.
And on that note, an update on a hate crime we’ve been covering since it happened in 2009:

CALGARY - While now eschewing white supremacist beliefs, a Calgary teen who spraypainted Jewish sites still thinks the Nazis had some good ideas and weren't racist, court heard Thursday.

And while the judge who will sentence the youth agreed he has a right to his beliefs, he said it's ironic the offender would feel that way about fascists.

"The Nazis were a totalitarian regime that tried to take away people's right to free thought," youth court Judge Todd LaRochelle said.

"Beyond the horror suffered by the Jewish community ... thousands and thousands of other Canadians died in that war so you can have that freedom of thought.

"Do you understand the irony of that?" the judge asked.

LaRochelle heard sentencing submissions from Crown and defence lawyers on what punishment he should impose on the teen, who earlier pleaded guilty to two hate crimes.

The offender, who was a minor at the time and can't be named, admitted Nov. 14, 2009, charges of willfully promoting hatred and mischief to religious property.

He went on an anti-Semitic, spray-painting spree in the city's southwest, drawing Nazi symbols on several locations, including two synagogues and a Holocaust memorial.

The latter was the most offensive to members of Calgary's Jewish community, Judy Shapiro said in a victim impact statement made a court exhibit.

Shapiro, a member of the Calgary Jewish Community Council, said the teen's decision to target locations
such as synagogues and the Jewish Community Centre was telling.

"Seeking out synagogues -- centres of Jewish religious observance, and the Calgary JCC -- the 'living room' of the Jewish community, indicates an intention to target a whole community, not only its individual members," she wrote.

"Perhaps most disturbing of all the graffiti, however, was the desecration of the Holocaust Memorial Monument," Shapiro said.

"This monument was erected by Calgarians in memory of their family members who perished in the Holocaust.
"In the absence of known burial sites, this monument represents the tombstones of those murdered by the Nazis."

LaRochelle will decide July 21 on an appropriate punishment for the teen, who spent more than two months in custody before his release on bail.

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Dr.Dawg said...

I think there's a bit of confusion here, with respect.

Canada has two judicial ways of dealing with what we would call hate crimes. The first is hate crime legislation, which the police in this case correctly note is concerned with the promulgation of hatred. This is covered under Secions 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code, which make it an offence to advocate genocide or incite hatred.

Note that actual hateful actions are not covered.

The second is a provision in the Criminal Code that permits a sentencing judge to weigh hatred of this nature in arriving at a suitable punishment. This comes under a different Section of the CC, 718.2(a)(i), which states that a sentencing judge must consider "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 similar factor" as an aggravating circumstance.

One deals with a crime, the other with punishment. It's the latter that would apply here, but folks keep making this mistake. And no offence intended, as I used to do the same thing.

In any case, keep up the good work, my friends. Let's hope the perps at their sentencing get the full weight of 718.2(a)(i).

Anonymous said...

@Dr. Dawg: I don't think there's really a misunderstanding here, and you've given a good summary of how the Code works on hate offenses.

For all intents and purposes, the police would need to investigate it "as a hate crime" for 718.2 a)1) to apply, as I understand it, because they need to bring evidence into court that hate motivated the crime. The reluctance to do it is largely because of how difficult it is to prove motive (the crown generally needs to prove that the criminal act was intentional, but they don't need to prove why the accused did it).

Anonymous said...

I definitely think those two pukes should get it for attempted murder with the Halifax shooting.

And for that teen, I think the judge was right on the money for pointing out the irony of that little punk's defense of "freedom of thought" while supporting a murderous, totalitarian regime that went to great lengths to suppress independent thought.

Neo nazis are hypocrites in that respect. They claim to be "freedom fighters" standing up for our rights, but as far as I am concerned, there is no freedom or right to life under a swastika. The only "rights" they demand, is to spew their vile hatred, to incite violence and engage in "Ethnic Cleansing" with no consequences or reprisals.