bc-080928-hatecrime2

Jordan Smith says gay people are often targeted because of their sexuality. ((CBC))

Vancouver police say they are treating an attack in the city's West End on Saturday as a hate crime, after a 27-year-old man was struck in the face while walking hand in hand with another man.

Early Saturday morning, Jordan Smith was walking along Davie Street, near Hornby Street, holding hands with another man.

A group of four young men approached the pair, calling out gay slurs, Smith told CBC News. One of the men then hit him in the face with enough force that he fell back on the sidewalk and was knocked unconscious.

Smith's jaw was dislodged and fractured in a number of places, and he's scheduled to go in for surgery Monday, which will leave his jaw wired shut for six weeks.

"It's my first experience with any type of violence for being gay, but I think it goes on and, unfortunately, people in the gay community just tolerate it because they're used to being ridiculed," Smith said. "It just doesn't seem to stop, and I think, really, something has to change."

Suspect arrested

Insp. John McKay, with the Vancouver police, said a suspect was caught in an alley a few blocks away.

Michael Kandola, 20, of Vancouver, was released from jail Saturday evening. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance Monday.

"The charge we're looking at is assault causing bodily harm. It's a very serious offence, but coupled with it will be a hate crime [charge] because of the actions and what was said prior to the assault going on," McKay said.

Smith said he takes comfort in knowing police are viewing the incident as a possible hate crime, which carries with it a stiffer penalty.

"I think it's time that people realize that gay people are being targeted for being gay and for no other reason … it's a hate crime. There's no other way to look at it," he said.

Smith likely would have been further injured, McKay said, had it not been for the courage of others.

"I think what caused it to break up was that some witnesses came along and intervened verbally and it caused these guys to disappear," McKay said. "We're very grateful to the witnesses who intervened and helped this person once he was down because there's no doubt in my mind that this assault was going to continue based on the behaviour that they all said occurred."

Smith hopes the incident will help raise awareness about the intolerance and prejudice openly gay people face.

"I don't think there's a gay person I know who's never been in a situation … either verbally attacked or physically attacked in some way. It's common," he said. "A lot people never do what I did … contacting the media. A lot people just forget about it and they don't say anything."