A man is facing a charge of second-degree murder after a prominent gay activist in Halifax was beaten to death early Tuesday morning outside a gay club on Gottingen Street.
Raymond Taavel was a former chairman of Gay Pride week events and a well-known editor for Wayves magazine. He also worked for the Shambala Sun Foundation.
He was found lying in the street bleeding at 2:39 a.m. local time by a passing motorist who called Halifax Regional Police. Taavel died at the scene.
Police say the death was a homicide. Andre Noel Denny, 32, is scheduled to appear in Halifax Provincial Court Wednesday.
"The preliminary investigation indicates that Mr. Taavel attempted to break up a fight between two men and that one of the men began assaulting him," Halifax police spokesman Brian Palmeter said.
"A witness called police after he noticed a man lying on the ground bleeding and observed a person fleeing the area."
Taavel and a friend had just left Menz Bar, a popular Halifax gay bar, when witnesses say they got into an argument and fight with a much larger man.
Police investigating motive
Two witnesses have told police the attacker used homophobic slurs during the beating and one eyewitness told CBC News that he repeatedly slammed Taavel's head into the street where the victim was found by police and later pronounced dead by paramedics.
A witness, who only wants to be identified as James, told CBC News that he saw a large man attack two smaller men, who appeared to be friends. One victim fled and the attacker then slammed the other man's head into the street.
"He put on a good beating onto the first guy … and then he went after the other through anger and focused on him too much. That's how it ended up being what it is," James said.
"The big guy was just full of resentment, probably towards homosexuals. That slur was used."
Police said they were still investigating the motive.
"There has been speculation online and in the community that this was a hate crime. While we cannot provide specific information about the case, as it is still under investigation, police have spoken to a number of witnesses and are considering all possibilities with respect to the motive," Palmeter said.
Hundreds attend vigil
On Tuesday evening, hundreds of people gathered on Gottingen Street to hold a vigil for Taavel. The street was closed off as mourners held candles and remembered a man they loved and, in many cases, a man they had never met.
Daniel MacKay, the publisher of Wayves, went to the vigil to honour his friend. Taavel was the magazine's editor for 10 years. MacKay said Taavel had written about a similar attack two years ago. It can be read on page 14 of the magazine. MacKay said police reports that his friend died trying to break up a fight fit the man's character.
"That's an intrinsic part of Raymond. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, Raymond helped other people," he said. "I'm going to miss him driving me to do better things in our community, which he did on a regular basis."
The wide range of people at the vigil gathered around a giant Pride flag and sang Amazing Grace to honour Taavel.
Suspect is a psychiatric patient
Denny was arrested in a nearby alley shortly after the attack. He is a patient who failed to return to the East Coast Forensic Hospital in Dartmouth after a one-hour leave, CBC News has learned. He is one of three patients who did not return to the hospital Monday.
Capital Health, the organization that runs the hospital, has launched an internal review into the matter.
Denny was sent to the facility after being found not criminally responsible on a charge of assault causing bodily harm in Sydney.
In court documents, the man is described as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. He is also described as being grossly psychotic with a history of aggressive impulsivity and unpredictability.