As Jamie Bezanson’s attorney sought to explain why he was asking for a sentence that might seem lenient to someone who only knew his client’s name from the media, he referred the judge to a pile of press clippings.
They all identified the 51-year-old as a suspect in what police described in April 2020 as a “hate crime” – a “despicable” act motivated by what officers feared was anti-racism. Asia linked to what was then an emerging global pandemic.
But that was only the beginning of the story.
‘He didn’t do that’
In the months following Bezanson’s delivery, senior Crown prosecutors reviewed the evidence, obtaining follow-up statements from eyewitnesses that led them to believe there was not even a ‘reasonable probability’ to prove Bezanson’s assault on a 92-year-old man. old stranger was motivated by hate.
The longshoreman said he thought he was helping staff at a 7-Eleven remove a difficult customer after he called 911. He said he didn’t realize Kaihong Kwong had severe dementia.
And when Kwong fell and hit his head in the parking lot after being pushed out the door, Bezanson got out, picked him up and set him down on the sidewalk.
None of this was in the stories Michael Bloom outlined as he asked Judge Donna Senniw to grant Bezanson a conditional discharge.
“The offense committed by Mr. Bezanson was not racially motivated. Nor was it the proceeds of a hate crime,” Bloom told the judge during a sentencing hearing. Monday.
“The evidence doesn’t amount to that. The Crown conceded that and Mr. Bezanson said – he didn’t do that.”
“He thought he was helping”
Senniw granted Bezanson parole and a year of probation this week after a joint submission by Bloom and Crown Attorney Jim Cryder. He was also ordered to pay the victim $100.
The CBC has obtained an audio recording of the hearing, which provides context for a situation that began with a public frenzy but ended with a decision that may have been confusing to anyone who did not follow the proceedings of close.
The assault took place on the afternoon of March 13, 2020 in East Vancouver.
Kwong had left his home earlier in the day unbeknownst to his family, heading to 7-Eleven, where he stood in a confused state at the head of a line of customers, leaning over the counter and asking questions.
Bezanson was in an adjacent line, waiting to check his lottery tickets when an employee called the police.
“He thought he was helping,” Senniw said.
Police arrived after Bezanson left, but did not investigate the assault allegation until one of the eyewitnesses called a few days later.
Cryder said anyone would find it upsetting to see a burly man with long hair, a beard and a skull and crossbones T-shirt push a frail elderly person half his height to the ground.
The prosecutor said sensitivities were heightened by the pandemic.
“Given that China was the source of the COVID virus, at that time there was concern that there could be inappropriate and tragic incidents of threatening or violent behavior towards people of Asian descent,” Cryder said.
“This incident was captured by these social concerns and the resulting media interest.”
“Different rather surprising versions”
The Criminal Code contains provisions on hate crimes, but they are largely reserved for offenses involving hate propaganda or the promotion or glorification of genocide.
Instead, prosecutors in cases like the one involving the Kwong attack debate whether to argue that racial hatred motivation is an aggravating factor in sentencing.
Cryder said the case was taken on by a Vancouver police hate crimes investigator, with the public call to identify a suspect taking place on April 22, 2020.
Bezanson called 911 for identification within hours of the call and arrived with an attorney two days later.
He pleaded guilty, which counts as a mitigating factor for sentencing.
“This trial would have been difficult,” Cryder told the judge.
The prosecutor said five of the seven eyewitnesses were children between the ages of 12 and 15.
“It would have been a difficult experience for them and it would have been a long cross-examination because there were many different versions of events. Quite surprisingly different versions,” Cryder said.
The prosecutor said the Crown’s senior administrative leadership had reviewed the facts of the case – concluding it would not tip the balance of odds needed to win a civil case, let alone hit the much higher bar of prosecution criminal.
“I know I crossed that line”
Kwong suffered no permanent damage and his family did not provide a victim impact statement.
“They were very concerned, upset about the incident when it happened, but they don’t want to get involved any further,” Cryder said.
Bloom said Bezanson was a father and a grandfather. He also recently became the adoptive parent of a 17-year-old girl. He has no criminal record and was a leader of a union dedicated to the fair treatment of employees.
The lawyer said his client had suffered “great shame, stigma and embarrassment”. He said he would normally present a judge with a series of letters from family and friends attesting to a defendant’s character.
But not this time.
“Mr. Bezanson has chosen not to provide any letters of support lest anyone who does so will be subject to the same media shame and stigma that Mr. Bezanson has suffered during these proceedings,” Bloom said.
Bloom said Bezanson and his family received threats by phone, email and through social media. His truck’s tires were punctured three times, and last November his truck was set on fire and destroyed by vandals.
“The only inference that can be rationally and logically drawn is that it’s from this unfavorable media coverage,” Bloom said.
After the two attorneys spoke, Bezanson read his statement to the judge. She asked him to read it twice because his voice was difficult to distinguish.
“I never meant to say any animosity or ill will towards anyone. I have always been a strong member of the union all my life with the belief that there is no place for discrimination based on age, race or religion. And I’ve always done my best to live up to that,” Bezanzon said.
“I know I crossed that line and can only hope for forgiveness. I promise this experience I will never forget and never repeat.”