Gay-targeted murder recalled 20 years later

Ottawa residents and police gathered Friday evening on the Alexandra Bridge to remember a man murdered on Aug. 21, 1989, by attackers who thought he was gay.

Ceremony marks the night of Alain Brosseau's death in Ottawa

Ottawa residents and police gathered Friday evening on the Alexandra Bridge to remember a man murdered on Aug. 21, 1989, by attackers who thought he was gay.

Alain Brosseau, 33, who worked as a waiter at the Château Laurier hotel, was walking home from his job through Major's Hill Park when he was attacked by a group of teenagers who chased him, beat him, dangled him by his ankles over the side of the bridge and let him fall to his death.

His attackers later said they mistakenly believed Brosseau was gay, which he was not.

Ottawa and Gatineau police and the organizers of the Capital Pride Festival organized the ceremony Friday to mark the 20th anniversary of Brosseau's death.

Ceremony for Alain Brosseau

The event was to begin with a free screening of Nice Shoes Faggot at the National Gallery of Canada at 380 Sussex Dr.

Participants gathered on the Alexandra Bridge, which connects Gatineau's Boulevard des Allumettières with Ottawa's St. Patrick Street near the National Gallery.

They were invited to bring cellphones and flashlights to light up the bridge.

Ottawa Police Chief Vern White and Gatineau Police Chief Mario Harel were to march up their respective sides of the bridge and meet in the middle for a symbolic exchange.

The memorial began with a screening at the National Gallery of Canada of a short film by gay Ottawa filmmaker and artist Carl Stewart, who said Brosseau's death was a significant event and a turning point for the community.

"I think the fact that he wasn't gay meant that it could happen to anyone."

Following Brosseau's murder, the Ottawa Police Service started a new unit that went on to become the first hate crimes unit in Canada.

Stewart said it's important to remember the incident because gay-targeted attacks are still happening.

"People are still insulted in the street, people are still assaulted on the street, people are still killed."

The murder was one in a series of assaults in Major's Hill Park the summer Stewart arrived in Ottawa. After killing Brosseau, his attackers broke into a home and attacked two men while they slept.

Stewart said that made him feel like there was nowhere to hide — he wasn't safe in the street or in his own home.

The film cuts between both Brosseau's story and that of the men attacked in their home. It's called Nice Shoes Faggot because of what happened in the final moments of Brosseau's  life as he hung over the bridge.

"The last thing that his murderers said to him was, 'I like your shoes,'" Stewart said. "And then they let him go."

Jeffrey Lalonde was later convicted of second-degree murder in Brosseau's death and sentenced to life in prison. He committed suicide in his cell in May 2008 at age 36.

One of his accomplices, Thomas MacDougall, 18 at the time of the attack, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Duane Martin, 17 at the time, was tried as an adult and received an eight-year sentence for aggravated assault. Two other teens were jailed for the home invasion later that night, while the 16-year-old who acted as the main witness against the others was given a suspended sentence.