CANADA

A COMMUNITY IN FEAR

GAYS IN MONTREAL LIVE WITH VIOLENCE

BARRY CAME November 29 1993
CANADA

A COMMUNITY IN FEAR

GAYS IN MONTREAL LIVE WITH VIOLENCE

BARRY CAME November 29 1993

A COMMUNITY IN FEAR

CANADA

GAYS IN MONTREAL LIVE WITH VIOLENCE

By all accounts, he was a cultivated, caring man, ideally suited to serve as rector of St. James the Apostle Anglican Church in Montreal’s upper-crust Westmount district. But Warren Eling may have led another life outside the church—and it could have cost him dearly. Earlier this month, a group of Eling’s parishioners, worried about his unexplained absence, stumbled upon the 54-year-old cleric’s

dead body in the bedroom of the elegant townhouse where he lived. He was nearly naked. His hands were tied behind his head and knotted to the bed. A leather belt was tightly bound around his neck. Robbery is still officially listed as the motive for the crime, but Montreal police concede the probability that Eling’s death was sex-related—the latest in a long string of homosexual murders in Quebec’s largest city. At least 14 men have been slain in Montreal in the past four years in crimes apparently aimed at homosexuals. Most, like Eling, have died violently in the privacy of their homes, the victims of assassins who, judging by the evidence, were freely

admitted. Eling himself did not publicly talk about his sexuality, but many of his parishioners say they suspected that he was gay. "There’s been the same recurring pattern in almost all of these killings,” says Pierre Sangollo, director of the Montreal Urban Community Police Department’s major crimes unit. “I think it’s fair to say that gay people are, in certain circumstances, being targeted.” According to Sangollo and other senior police officers, the prime targets are

gay men who seek brief sexual relationships with strangers whom they often meet in bars in the city’s east-end Gay Village. But in the view of spokesmen for Montreal’s homosexual community, one of the biggest and most visible in the country, the problem is more profound. ‘There’s a lot of homophobia out there,” claims Douglas Buckley of Montreal’s Committee of Gays and Lesbians Against Violence. “All these murders are the result."

Despite the differing interpretations, both Buckley and Sangollo agree that Montreal’s otherwise flourishing gay subculture is under threat. Both testified to that last week as a committee of the Quebec Human Rights Commission convened what its organizers believed was Canada’s first public inquiry into discrimination and violence against gays and lesbians. Designed to spark public debate on what committee chairman Fo Niemi described as Quebec society’s “systemic” anti-gay sentiment, the three-member panel of human rights commissioners heard 35 separate groups and individuals during six days of hearings. Many submissions dealt

with bread-and-butter issues, ranging from workplace discrimination to the lack of adequate health care for people with AIDS. But not even the most mundane brief failed to at least touch upon the violence that has overtaken the community.

In the view of many of Montreal’s gays, some person or persons unknown is stalking and killing male homosexuals. “The manner in which all of these people have met their deaths is chillingly similar,” argues Roger

Leclerc, another member of the Committee of Lesbians and Gays Against Violence. For a time, during the autumn of 1991, even the Montreal police suspected that a serial killer might be at large. But that theory has now been jettisoned. Sangollo’s unit, which investigates all violent crimes on the island of Montreal, has found that fingerprints from the various murders do not match, nor does any of the other material evidence that might establish a link among the crimes. To be certain, Montreal police called on RCMP experts who had investigated other serial killings. The Mounties, too, came up with nothing. “At this point, we do not have a single shred of evidence to suggest that a serial killer is at work,” argues Sangollo.

The few murders that have been resolved tend to support the police view. At the moment, five of the 14 killings have been resolved. Teenage skinheads were found guilty of beating to death 51-year-old Montreal accountant Yves Lalonde, who had been jogging a year ago in a suburban park frequented by gay men in search of a liaison. Similarly, teenage boys were also charged in the death last December of schoolteacher Daniel Lacombe, 37, who had stopped to use

a washroom in a roadside rest area in Laval that happened to be a popular meeting spot for homosexual encounters. In the other deaths, most of the victims appear to have been killed and robbed after being picked up in late-night bars in Montreal’s Gay Village. “They’ve been easy targets,” says Sangollo, “just the same as a single woman would be who goes home with some guy she meets in a bar and doesn’t know very well.”

That argument infuriates some Montreal gays, who clearly mistrust the ability of the police to investigate gay-related crimes. “Sangollo’s just blaming the victim,” claims Buckley. “He’s telling us that if we go to a gay bar, we deserve to be killed.” Echoing the view of other gay spokesmen, Buckley demanded a coroner’s inquest into the 14 murders to investigate the possibility of a connection among them.

Whatever the accuracy of that judgment, it is true that many gays in Montreal are targets of widespread animosity that can often spiral into violence. Alex Schnubb, the 30-year-old manager of a popular restaurant in the Gay Village, last week recalled being assaulted as he walked home from work in the early hours last spring in an attack that he believes came about because he is gay. “I was walking in front of a Metro station when I passed three youths in their late teens,” he said, describing the threesome as “respectable looking young men.” Moments later, the youths grabbed him by the neck and rammed his face into a lamppost, knocking him unconscious. Schnubb awoke, nose broken, 10 minutes later in the back of an ambulance. “It was totally unexpected,” he said, rubbing his stillbent nose. “You get used to being heckled by passing cars when you walk down a street in the village, but you don’t expect to be beaten up.”

As for Eling, his murder on Nov. 8 remains a mystery. On Nov. 10, police in Toronto recovered the car that was stolen from his Westmount

home. But by late last week they were no closer to solving the crime. Nor is anyone who knew the pastor certain of the motive. Montreal’s Anglican bishop, Andrew Hutchison, however, urged the police to uncover a sexual connection if, in fact, one exists. “If the speculation is correct that this crime is in some way related to sexual orientation, then we are doubly outraged,” Bishop Hutchison said, “for it makes of it not simply a violent crime but one motivated by hatred.”

BARRY CAME

SAM MAINSTER