Nova Scotia gay man attacked as violent assaults based on sexual orientation grow

Steve Mertl
Nova Scotia gay man attacked as violent assaults based on sexual orientation grow

Police in New Glasgow, N.S., haven't decided yet whether to lay a hate-crimes charge against the suspect in the brutal attack that has left an openly gay man paralyzed.

But friends of Scott Jones believe that's why he was attacked while out with a friend early Saturday morning. Jones was stabbed in the back by an assailant who first whispered something in his ear.

His friend and roommate, Amy Punke, said Jones is well known in the town of 9,500.

“He’s a musician and he’s very open about his sexuality in that he encourages conversation," she told CBC News.

“Myself, and his family and the people that know him, we feel that he may have been targeted because of the fact that he’s gay — and he’s openly gay in town."

[ Related: Police charge 19-year-old in violent attack on gay N.S. man ]

Jones, who may never walk again after his spinal cord was severed in the attack, told police he did not remember what the man said before stabbing him and trying to slit his throat.

Punke, said they discussed his fear of being targeted because of his sexual orientation.

"Things that he lives with and what many people live with when they live in fear of not being accepted," Punke told CTV News.

Police arrested Shane Edward Matheson, 19, on Saturday night. He's charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and possession of a dangerous weapon. Const. Ken MacDonald said it's early in the investigation and would not comment on whether the attack was related to Jones being gay, CTV News reported.

According to Statistics Canada's data for 2011, there were 240 incidents of police-reported hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation, accounting for 18 per cent of the total, compared with 52 per cent based on race or ethnicity and 25 per cent connected to religion.

However, StatsCan said that while race- and religion-oriented attacks declined, the number of incidents related to sexual orientation increased by 10 per cent. They were also the most likely to be violent, accounting for 65 per cent of the total.

Sometimes you don't have to be gay to be targeted. Kerry Street, 25, of Surrey, B.C., was attacked last week and suffered severe damage to his jaw and teeth from a stranger yelling homophobic slurs, Global News reported.

“For the second time in my life I’ve been gay-bashed," said Street. "And the catch is, well, I’m not gay."

Street, who wears his hair in a Mohawk and skateboards, said three years ago he was set upon by three men who broke his nose and ribs. No one's been caught in either attack.

Two Vancouver gay men were beaten in 2010 after asking two men to stop urinating on the wall of their downtown apartment building. The attackers yelled homophobic insults at one of the men, according to evidence at their trial, CTV News reported.

However, the alleged attackers, two brothers from suburban Richmond, B.C., were acquitted of assault causing bodily harm despite eyewitness testimony and blurry security video.

[ Related: Gay activist Raymond Taavel honoured in Halifax march ]

Canada's East Coast has among the lowest incidence of gay-bashing attacks but as last weekend's incident shows, they're not unheard of.

Last summer, a Newfoundland man claimed a group of people in St. John's yelled homophobic slurs at him before beating him to a pulp, QMI Agency reported.

"I heard a bunch of people behind me call me a fag," Pattrick Blackburn said in a YouTube video that has since been taken down.

"Whatever. It didn't bother me so I just kept walking. I heard footsteps. The last thing I remember, I was in the hospital where I was told I had a blood transfusion. I lost a lot of blood."

A friend told QMI Agency police weren't investigating because they claimed Blackburn told them at the scene that he didn't want to press charges. Blackburn said he doesn't remember saying that and planned to file an official complaint to launch the investigation.

One of the most notorious attacks in recent years was the beating death of prominent Halifax gay activist Raymond Taavel in 2012.

Taavel, a local journalist, was attacked outside a Halifax gay bar when he apparently tried to break up a fight between two other men.

Police arrested a suspect in a nearby alley. Andre Denny, a resident of a local psychiatric facility overdue from a one-hour pass, was charged with second-degree murder but apparently not a hate crime, despite allegedly yelling a homophobic slur during the attack.

His lawyer at the time said the diagnosed schizophrenic was not capable of committing a hate crime.

“He’s aboriginal himself," Pavel Boubnove said, according to News 95.7. "He’s aware of discrimination issues. The reason for whatever happened is just the nature of his mental illness.”

Denny underwent a preliminary hearing last summer.