After a year of unprovoked stranger assaults, a Vancouver Provincial Court judge captured the mood of many Vancouverites as she sentenced a man for one such attack.
“People are terrified,” Judge Ellen Gordon said in a November sentencing Ryan Egil Aitken jail after he assaulted a stranger with a metal pipe.
“Tourists leave Vancouver with a very negative view of what has to be the most beautiful city in the world and it’s all because of offences like this.”
The year kicked off with reports of violence on New Year’s Day.
The victims were a 52-year-old man who was struck in the head and a 26-year-old man who was hit in the face near Granville and Nelson streets New Year’s Eve.
Cruz Thomas Joseph was initially charged with two counts of assault with a weapon, two counts of assault causing bodily harm, robbery, and possession of a dangerous weapon in connection with the attacks.
Three weeks later, Vancouverites were horrified to hear of a 25-year-old Mexican visitor to Canada being stabbed by a stranger in a downtown Tim Hortons.
David Richard Morin was charged with aggravated assault.
Then, on March 10, a pair of Port Moody teenagers were charged with aggravated assault after an alleged machete incident at Burquitlam SkyTrain station.
A man was seen being chased by two suspects, one of them carrying a large machete and allegedly swung it in his direction.
It's believed that the three all knew each other, Metro Vancouver Transit Police spokesperson Const. Amanda Steed said at the time.
The man tried to use a pylon to protect himself, but was struck in the side of his head and was left with a deep laceration.
On June 1, police said a man used his car to ram a pedestrian on the gas station's property and then began waving a machete.
"He then got out of the car, and allegedly chased several people while holding a knife and a machete," the VPD said in a news release. "He reportedly punched a passerby, then turned his attention back to the pedestrian, stabbing him on the neck and back."
Leslie Dale Chudek faces charges of aggravated assault, assault, uttering threats and dangerous vehicle operation in connection with the incident at 3502 East Hastings Street.
Then, on June 19, in front of the Empress Hotel in the Downtown Eastside, two people loading luggage into a taxi were attacked by a stranger.
Kenneth Stephen Solowan, 37, was arrested on Aug. 10 near Chinatown and charged with two counts of aggravated assault.
Both of the victims suffered significant injuries and required hospitalization.
One July 7, Gastown tourists got more than photos of the Steam Clock when they saw a man running through the streets brandishing a machete.
Two days later, reports emerged of a mother and toddler being assaulted. Shakwan Kelly was charged with one count of assault following the July 9 incident.
On July 11, Justin Mohrmann, 29, was walking near Smith and Homer Streets around 8:30 a.m. when he was fatally stabbed. Police found no evidence he and accused Lindsay Scott knew each other.
Another incident occurred on Aug. 6, when a man allegedly lit his Granville Street SRO room ablaze before attacking four people with a machete and stabbing them. The victims were left with life-altering injuries, said police. Ibrahim Abdela Bakhit was charged with aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.
On Sept. 27, police reported a 19-year-old student was walking through downtown Vancouver when a man she did not know hit her over the back of the head with a pole and used a racial slur before fleeing the area, all the while making offensive comments.
Two weeks later, police asked for public assistance after a 29-year-old woman was walking near Cambie and Pender streets when a man approached and punched her in the face, knocking her to the ground.
And, on Oct. 8, a man went on a stabbing spree in CRAB Park, where three people suffered serious injuries. Denis Sleightholme was charged Oct. 11 with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of possession of a weapon in the park incidents. He was convicted in a 2015 death on Hastings Street.
By November, police had issued a public warning in one case where a person was believed to be a threat to strangers.
Bryce Michael Flores-Bebington faces charges of assault and uttering threats in relation to an Oct. 2 incident. He is also charged with two counts of sexual assault in relation to incidents in Vancouver on July 6 and 7.
Investigation and government action
The series of stranger attacks prompted the provincial government decided to take action, with an investigative report released Oct. 1.
The report dealt mainly with Vancouver and Victoria incidents but noted that, in Vancouver, stranger attacks in 2020 and 2021 increased by 35 percent compared to 2019, coinciding with the pandemic.
“An analysis of a sample of 40 cases indicates most involved suspects living with serious mental illness and/or substance use,” the report said.
The report said smaller communities did not have the same frequency of attacks as larger cities but added most incident involve mental health issues.
The report also said the ongoing opioid crisis could be a factor with studies having shown “even minor contamination of heroin with fentanyl results in strong potential for brain hypoxia.”
According to the report, “aggression and violence following brain injury has been characterized as unpredictable, and can occur in the absence of clear triggers or provocation.”
It added: “there is a robust body of research confirming the relationship between methamphetamine use and increased risk for violence.”
The vast majority of people with mental illness are never involved in crime or violence, underlines the report.
The report concluded with a call on government to make significant investments in poverty reduction, housing affordability, and the continuum of care for substance use and mental health conditions as areas holding the most promise to drive down crime.
“We acknowledge and commend the very significant efforts the B.C. Government has made to date in these areas, but further bold and courageous actions will be required to effect significant change,” the report said.