Ottawa Redblacks suspend Chris Larsen amid probe into Toronto Island beating, but no suspect named
Larsen says allegations not true: 'I don't have an ounce of hate in my heart for anyone'
The Ottawa Redblacks have suspended defensive lineman Chris Larsen amid an investigation into an alleged hate-motivated beating at the ferry docks on Toronto Island over the weekend that police say left a member of the city's LGBTQ community with "significant injuries."
Toronto police, including officers from the force's hate crime unit, are now investigating the reported assault near Hanlan's Point on Saturday night. The alleged assault happened during Pride month and near a beach that is considered LGBTQ-friendly.
According to a police news release, a 24-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman were walking to the ferry docks when they "became involved in a disagreement with a group of people."
That's when, police say, a man from that second group of people made homophobic comments toward the victims.
A woman from the second group grabbed one of the pair, police say. Then, two men from the group punched and kicked the 24-year-old man, leaving him with "significant injuries."
David Gomez identified himself as the victim when contacted by CBC News. He sent along photos of his injuries, but declined an on-camera interview request.
A crowdfunding campaign set up for Gomez, which had raised more than $48,000, states he was knocked unconscious, and suffered a broken nose, cheekbone and orbital bone, as well as an injury to his hip and a concussion.
The crowdfunding page describes him as "a precious and loved member of our Queer community."
In the days after the assault was reported, social media posts identified a member of the CFL's Ottawa Redblacks as being one of the people allegedly responsible for the attack. The Redblacks announced on Wednesday evening that Larsen had been suspended from the team, pending an ongoing investigation.
The Ottawa REDBLACKS announced today that they have suspended defensive lineman Chris Larsen.<br><br>Full Statement: <a href="https://t.co/Ov1tvjb1GD">https://t.co/Ov1tvjb1GD</a> <a href="https://t.co/z9757qlZTh">pic.twitter.com/z9757qlZTh</a>—@REDBLACKS
Mark Goudie, CEO of the Redblacks' parent company, Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, said in a statement that he does not know "all of the specifics of the incident," but said the organization is building a team that "reflects the values of our community.
"Diversity and inclusion are central to our organizational values and we will try our best to use our platform to help make acts of hate and violence, including homophobia, stop," Goudie said. "We recognize there are larger systemic issues that plague our society, and as an organization, we know that we can play a role in making our community a more tolerant, respectful, educated and inclusive place."
Larsen was drafted in 2019 but hasn't appeared in a game with the team.
The CFL also issued a statement Wednesday evening, saying it also takes the allegations "very seriously" and "look[s] forward to the outcome.
"We want to reaffirm our values: We condemn homophobia, violence and hate. We support inclusivity and diversity," the statement said in part. "More needs to be done and we will continue to stand with the LGBTQ2S+ community."
Statement from the CFL <a href="https://t.co/hA3Gzy31yb">pic.twitter.com/hA3Gzy31yb</a>—@CFL
Toronto police said the force's hate crime unit has been notified and is assisting officers from 52 Division with the investigation. No one has been arrested or charged in the incident.
"This remains an active investigation and extensive inquiries are being carried out including scouring for video, recovering evidence and speaking to witnesses to establish the motive," police said in a statement.
"The Toronto Police Service understands that incidents of this nature cause concern in LGBTQ2S+ communities. We want to assure everyone that our investigators are working hard to determine if this was a hate crime and identify the suspects involved. Any type of hate crime will not be tolerated."
On Tuesday, Larsen spoke to CBC Toronto about the situation, saying he cannot comment on exactly what happened that night because of the "legal process," but said he went to Hanlan's Point to celebrate the birthday of a friend who is part of the LGBTQ community.
Larsen added he "kind of broke down" when he saw the allegations on social media following the incident and said there is no truth to his being involved in any assault.
"If you know me personally, you know anything that was being said about me is not true," Larsen said. "I denounce any sort of hate crime or attack on any sort of marginalized community or people in general."
"I don't have an ounce of hate in my heart for anyone."
As for the allegations, he said: "It felt like a bad dream, like a Black Mirror episode or something like that."
Larsen said he has been completely willing to co-operate with the police.
Defence lawyer says Larsen no longer a suspect
Calvin Barry, a criminal defence lawyer and former crown attorney retained by Larsen, said on Tuesday that he and Larsen went to Toronto police 52 Division last Friday to tell Larsen's side of the story.
"He is no longer a suspect," he said. "It's important to note that [Larsen] wasn't involved in any utterances that would be considered hate."
Barry said there was a melee and comments that went back and forth. Larsen was there with his friends.
"It's tragic all around for the complainant," he said. "A lot of times, it's better to let the police do the investigation before people jump to conclusions. This is an example of somebody who was at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Barry noted the investigation is ongoing.
"Obviously the people who did this … should be brought to justice, they should be prosecuted."
Barry added he hopes the CFL lifts Larsen's suspension shortly because of the misinformation and allows him to return to his life and career.
Gomez has declined to respond to the comments from Larsen and his lawyer.
Police say they have not named any suspects
On Tuesday, police said they have not named anyone as a suspect and the investigation is continuing. They also appealed for witnesses to come forward.
In a news release on Monday, Det.-Const. Lauren Hassard, of 52 Division, said investigators have not received many tips so far.
"We understand the concern this caused in the community and I want to assure everyone that we are doing everything possible to ascertain exactly what happened," Hassard said in the release.
"This is a complex incident with multiple people involved and we have to be sure we carry out a thorough investigation, establishing the full facts with evidence to support it," she added.
"I'd implore anyone who has photos, videos, or may have seen anything to please contact us. Even if you think what you saw is irrelevant, tell us anyway. The smallest piece of information could be key to this investigation."
People who were making their way to the docks between 10 p.m. and 12 p.m. that day and who may have witnessed the assault or any events beforehand, are urged to call police.
Officers said they are interested in speaking to two women who were in the immediate area and saw the incident. They are described as white, in their 20s and with brown hair.
Police said the women are not in any trouble and are not believed to be connected to anyone involved.
Pride says attack is heartbreaking
In a statement last week, Pride Toronto said these kinds of attacks highlight why it is important for the organization to bring awareness to homophobia, transphobia and biphobia in the city.
"It is heartbreaking to hear this happened during Pride Month — an attack on one is an attack on all," the group said. "Everyone, please, be safe and take care of yourself and those around you."
Police are asking anyone with video of the incident or information about what happened to contact investigators or Crime Stoppers.
With files from Adam Carter and Kelda Yuen