Last May, John Meloche, then 27, was charged with public incitement of hatred, assault causing bodily harm, assault, assaulting a police officer, and resisting arrest following an incident at a Pizza Pizza in Windsor, Ontario. Meloche was part of a group of three men who, waiting in line, began making anti-gay remarks about the two men in line behind them: Justin Jarecki and Denton Callender, both openly gay. At the trial, Meloche denied saying "I hate fags" (as several witnesses said he said), but admitted saying, "I'm not a homo, this homo needs to get off my ass." When Callender told Meloche's group that they should be ashamed of the way they were speaking, Meloche punched both of them in the face, breaking several of Jarecki's bones (he later needed reconstructive surgery). After restaurant employees called the police, Meloche ran away and then fought with the officer who had been following him on foot. He was arrested after two other officers arrived.
At his trial, however, Meloche was only found guilty of assault causing bodily harm. On the stand, he said that he had feared for his safety, which to me sounds a lot like he's trying to claim the gay panic defence without actually claiming the gay panic defence. At the time, the Windsor Star reported that:
"In addition to calling Jarecki frail and timid, [Justice Guy] De Marco said he also wasn’t “inclined” to believe that Meloche punched Callender out of fear, but added he couldn’t exclude it as a possibility.
At one point, Meloche said, Callender grabbed his arm and spun him around.
“I got scared when he grabbed my arm,” said
Meloche. “I said don’t (expletive) touch me. I got really scared when he turned me around.”
That was when he punched Callender, then Jarecki. De Marco said that despite Meloche’s comments about the men, there was no evidence to suggest Meloche was trying to incite others to jump in."
Even without the hate crime element, this case is a little weird. What about evidence to suggest that Meloche was running from the police and tried to fight one of them (say, from the officer in question)? What about the fact that he punched Callender as well, but was only convicted for the injuries against Jarecki? And with the hate crime element: what about the fact that Meloche started it? And that he had two others with him who may have joined in the verbal harassment, but that no one is talking about them? And what about the fact the one thing Meloche was convicted for, assault causing bodily harm, only got him a suspended sentence, a.k.a. no jail time?
I'm not the first person to think this is a screwy situation, which is a good thing, because otherwise I would probably go insane. In this morning's Windsor Star, Professor David Tanovich, from the faculty of law at the University of Windsor, Ontario, calls for a stronger response to the treatment of anti-gay hate crimes in court.
Tanovich argues that the point of sentencing is to denounce and deter, and that when a sentence is ridiculously light — as it is in this instance — it doesn't send the message that needs to be sent: that hate is unacceptable.
He also breaks down the decision in the case, and notes that the prime reason for light sentencing — Meloche's "exemplary background" in working with autistic children, cancer fundraising, and more relevantly, church activities — also makes it more likely that his actions were motivated by homophobia. Obviously, so does the fact that he used hateful language before attacking.
"If Meloche had broken the nose and cheekbone of a religious leader referring to him in a derogatory manner, no one would have any difficulty concluding that it was a hate crime requiring a sentence of imprisonment.
We need to ensure that we apply the same standards to all communities who face hate and discrimination on a daily basis.
Hopefully, the Crown will appeal."