Halifax Trans Woman Assaulted: How Much Hate Makes a Hate Crime?

Chris, via the Chronicle Herald

Chris Cochrane, a Halifax trans woman and well-known performer under the name Elle Noir, was shot in the arm at her apartment early Tuesday morning by two men claiming to be police officers and allegedly shouting transphobic and homophobic slurs.

According to the Halifax Regional Police, two men showed up at Cochrane’s apartment building at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, knocked on the door, and identified themselves as police officers. She opened the door, but when she saw that one man was carrying a gun, she tried to close it. Shots were fired, including one that went through the closed door and hit her right arm.

After surgery, Cochrane spent Tuesday night in the hospital. In an interview with the CBC on Wednesday, she said that she believes the attack was a hate crime:

“They were yelling, ‘Tranny faggot, open the door, let us in, let us in,’ which leads me to believe they knew who I was. I’m in a second-floor apartment. You know, you have to have a security key to get into the building.

“Obviously it was 100 per cent hatred.”

In the audio of the same interview, Cochrane says:

“The slurs didn’t make any sense. One, how did you know, and two, we’re in 2011, we’re not back in 1964, what is that. And the violence, it was obviously shoot to kill. Nine shots and then a shot gun.”

Police, however, are reluctant to call the incident a hate crime. Constable Brian Palmeter, a Halifax police spokesperson, told the Chronicle Herald,

“There’s no doubt if a derogatory statement is made, it’s unpleasant, it’s distasteful. But … you have to look at the motivation behind the incident. Certainly at this point, we are exploring the possibility that there are other motivating factors behind this incident . . . Certainly at this point, based on the information that we have, we don’t believe this is a hate crime.”

While Cochrane admits that her neighborhood is sketchy, she insists that she is not involved in any way with illegal drugs or activities.

According to the Criminal Code of Canada, a person can be convicted of a hate crime only with very specific proof that the motivation behind the criminal act was to harm or terrify an identifiable group based on colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. While the events that Cochrane describes suggest that her attackers were targeting her specifically for her gender identity and sexual orientation, it’s possible that the police don’t feel they have enough evidence yet to charge and successfully convict the perpetrators of a hate crime under the Code.

Also they haven’t caught them yet.

One section of the Code, though, stipulates that “a sentence should be increased or reduced to account for any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence . . . 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 other similar factor.” Which could mean, at least, that the attackers’ slurs could increase the severity of their eventual sentencing.

According to a report by Statistics Canada last week, reports of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation increased by 18% in 2009, and were more likely to include violence. An estimated 75% of hate crimes go unreported. Helen Kennedy, a spokesperson for Egale Canada, said that while the increase is likely in part due to people reporting incidents more frequently, there is still a problem:

“Reports of incidents have gone up and I think that’s directly related to some of the training we’re doing with the police and to engage the community to try and encourage people to report these incidents. We’ve known for years and years that we have a big problem with violence against the LGBT community … and I don’t think the government can continue to sweep this under the carpet and say that we have great legislation in Canada to protect LGBT communities (when) the reality is that we’re not.”

It’s a tricky one to call: on the one hand it’s easy to assume that police reluctance to call this a hate crime is based in transphobia and a general history of cops not exactly being bffs with the trans community; on the other hand, holding off on classifying something as a hate crime without solid evidence may be wise, so as not to diminish the gravity of actual crimes motivated by hate.

Regardless of what the police determine, we’re glad that Cochrane is safe and surrounded by her community, and we wish her a speedy recovery.


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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

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31 Comments

  1. It may be “tricky to call” for political reasons but if two white dudes were banging on the door of a Black person’s apartment and screaming at them to open the door while calling them the n-word, would anyone hesitate to say that it was a hate crime?

    • (i don’t mean to say this was definitively not a hate crime because obviously I don’t know) but, yeah, sometimes. If the person owed them money or something like that it would be placed in a sort ‘aggravated by hate’ crime sector. At least where I’m from, lots of people don’t turn (outwardly, at least) racist (or transphobic or homophobis, etc.) unless they already have a reason to be angry at you.

    • Why is that the automatic example? Sheesh. Now that I’ve had my rant on David Tyree…I can say this, I’ll have to agree with Celeste. The context is important. This smells like a hate crime, we “know” that. If they had killed her, we’d assume that’s why. But banging on the door, screaming the n-word at a black person doesn’t qualify as a hate crime dear, that qualifies as a public nuisance, disturbance of the peace, and a bunch of dumb fucks who obviously have nothing to do but to sit out around and think of new ways to act out their racism. So yeah, people would probably hesitate to call it that.

      Your comment proves the article’s point: “holding off on classifying something as a hate crime without solid evidence may be wise, so as not to diminish the gravity of actual crimes motivated by hate.”

      Whenever people pull the “well, if they were black…” example when something related to LGBTQ issues comes up, it invalidates and makes the presence of black queer people invisible. Find a new metaphor.

      Now to address Caitlin, people already have their prejudices (racism, transphobia, heterosexism (in place of the word homophobia) and they don’t necessarily need to be already angry at you to show their true colors. Motive and opportunity. There are some instances in which people are aggravated and you’re right, their previously quieted -isms come to the forefront, but in this case, it seems to have had no provocation other than her existence in that building complex.

      • That said, I think this is a hate crime because they were definitely shooting to kill her, paired with insults that outlined their reasons for targeting her.

        I hope they catch those ignorant motherfuckers.

        I’m glad that she is okay! Stay strong!

        • I just mean, as someone who grew up queer in Texas, whenever someone targeted me who I didn’t know and like, I don’t know, slashed my tires or threw a beer bottle at me, I automatically knew it was a hate crime. Let’s get real. She obviously didn’t know those people – she herself said it was “100% hatred”, which leaves me inclined to think that the police are way more hastily dismissing it than they would in other, non-LGBT hate crime cases.

          • “whenever someone targeted me who I didn’t know and like, I don’t know, slashed my tires or threw a beer bottle at me”

            Did that really happen to you? :( thats so sad
            It makes me want to go kick some Texas ass.

          • damn. i live in texas and i’ve been so lucky. but i have an hrc sticker on my car and I want to get a pretty rainbow one but i have an insane paranoia that someone will key “dyke”
            or something on my truck. plus according to the new people i met at the college i’m going to i “make their gaydar go off” so now i’m paranoid about that. made me happy to hear though..

            sorry about your experience though :(

        • Also, you’re very right. That was a poor, poor excuse of a metaphor, and I’m sorry. I in no way meant to marginalize LGBT of color (like Chris Cochrane), and I definitely don’t want to play the whose-suffering-is-worse. It all sucks and there’s so much that needs to be fixed. I’ve come a long way but I’ve still got things to learn :).

  2. Wow, so close to home.

    Halifax has an excellent reputation for the acceptance of the LGBT community, so this definitely irks me. Halifax also has a huge crime rate, which sucks hard.

    I think there is definite possibility that this is a hate crime (probably 95% sure). Yelling “tranny faggot” is definitely hateful. Shooting this woman with intent to kill is just horrible. What other motivating factors are there besides the fact that these two men don’t like “tranny faggots?” Probably none.

  3. The police were actually dismissing it as a hate crime before even interviewing her. Verbalizing their doubt to the media. Which, regardless of what really happened is terrible. To me that just makes them look like they aren’t even going to consider the possibility, because they are dismissing it so quickly without all possible information.

    • I agree– this is the part that troubles me. Aren’t they supposed to keep this sort of thing under wraps until they have evidence for any sort of conclusion? Deciding something before finding any determinate causation for doing so seems like a bad precedent for “justice.”

  4. So, calling someone “tranny faggot” does not tip the police off? How stupid can you be, seriously. One does not just throw around an insult like “tranny faggot.”
    That’s a very hateful thing to call someone, and it should definitely tell the police that this was a hate crime on her, because she is trans*. Again, they obviously knew she was trans* and targeted her for this, because you wouldn’t just call someone that you were randomly attacking that particular insult.

    Someone needs to do their job.

  5. There are actually extremely few crimes (including cases of murder) against trans women which have been tried as hate crimes… I can think of only two: the murders of Angie Zapata and Lateisha Green.

  6. When I heard this on the radio on the way to work on Wednesday I knew immediately that the entire hate crime idea would be swept under the rug. In fact, nothing about this incident surprised me. Which makes me much more sad than angry.

    I’ve always enjoyed living in Halifax, but that has nothing to do with being queer. This city does have a good reputation… which is honestly painted to be much better than it is for the sake of tourism.

    There is a level of LGBT phobia in this city that is sickening. People all around consistently toss slurs around without any worry that they will be called on it, and get angry when they are.

    I have found that since I changed my appearance from “tomboyish” to “alternative lifestyle” last year, people are almost obscenely vicious. And that’s now. Just a couple of years ago I was nearly kicked out of a local mall for holding hands with a girl. We were in our 20’s. Legal adults. When I was a teen, my high school refused to start a gay-strait alliance, or any other form of queer support group. I’ve heard stories of people throwing stuff out of cars at visibly queer people that are simply walking down the street. None of this ever makes the news, though this sort of thing happens constantly. This terrible news was only reported because someone actually got hurt. GOT FUCKING SHOT IN HER HOME.

    Halifax’s reputation is built on the longevity of the community, not on the acceptance of the heteronormative population. We’ve all just dug our heels in and refuse to give up the small spaces we have claimed. The non-friendly population just hasn’t seemed to figure out that we aren’t going to go away.

  7. Ugh this is so sickening! I’m pretty fortunate to live in the bubble that is TO (and we STILL have issues here) but just… wugh! Why people feel the need to suspend their responsibility to the integrity of others is beyond me, and then to claim moral superiority as a justification to boot! Isn’t it enough that LGBTQ people have proven that we are just that – PEOPLE! We have a full and human intellect, capable of love, intelligence, pain and everything else that heterosexual people are capable of. Bigots, get over your stupid immoral bullshit you reactionary, literal and limited minded asshats!!

  8. How can this incident not be classified as a hate crime, what with the slurs they were shouting at her? Do those policemen have like 2 brains cells each or something? Also, in my opinion, if you’re shooting anyone for ANY reason whatsoever, it’s a hate crime. I don’t know anyone who shoots anyone else because they love them…and I’m including crimes of passion. You wouldn’t try to kill your lover if you really loved them… But back to the main issue here, if this isn’t classified as a hate crime, may she sue the police department.

  9. so sad. but i’m glad she’s ok!

    and while i don’t doubt this is likely a hate crime, and agree that the police speaking out about it’s status as such before even speaking to chris is completely unethical, i will say that it is possible to use derogatory slurs in a crime without having that crime qualify as a ‘hate crime’.

    hypothetical situation: i owe some dealer 500$ for cocaine and he comes after me at home and calls me a dyke, etc while attacking. (ugh, this is unpleasant even to type). anyways, my point is that this scenario wouldn’t qualify as a hate crime. although the hateful speech may worsen the crime under canadian laws.

    anyways, just trying to make a little point. and i am in NO WAY implying that anything like that is actually at the root of chris’ attack. i just think it’s important to distinguish between these things lest we end up diluting and desensitizing people towards hate crimes.

  10. This was on the news and I totally missed that it was Elle Nior. She is an amazing performer at the weekly drag show here in Halifax. Halifax is a very accepting place for us homos. Such a huge student population makes it pretty easy on the peninsula.
    This is a terrible crime. I hope she is fine and will be back to performing soon. Especially with pride coming up!

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