Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Victim of 2009 gay bashing in Vancouver’s West End dies

Ritch Dowrey had lived in care facilities since being knocked unconscious in a Davie Street pub
Ritch Dowrey, left, is shown with Derek Dale, owner of, an online forum for fans of the Canadian Football League.

A Vancouver man has died, after spending the final five-and-a-half years of his life with permanent brain damage suffered in a 2009 assault that a judge said was motivated by “virulent homophobia.”

Ritch Dowrey had been in care facilities and unable to live independently since sustaining a catastrophic brain injury when he was sucker-punched at a Davie Street pub in March 2009. He was 62 at that time.

Dowrey died Saturday around noon, a family member confirmed.

His attacker, Shawn Woodward of Vancouver, was convicted of aggravated assault in 2010. In sentencing Woodward to six years in jail, Judge Jocelyn Palmer said the “outrageous” unprovoked assault fit the framework of a hate crime.

On March 13, 2009, Dowrey was at the Fountainhead Pub in Vancouver’s West End, spending a Friday night with friends, shooting pool and celebrating his retirement.

Dowrey was left unconscious when his head struck the floor after he was punched once in the face by Woodward, who was 35 at the time.

In her reasons for sentence, Palmer wrote in 2010: “It is clear from the Victim Impact Statements filed by Mr. Dowrey’s brother, son and daughter that they feel they have lost the man he was prior to March 13, 2009. It is tragic that on the day he was celebrating his retirement all his future plans were cancelled by a single punch.”

Dowrey was a “super cheerful, positive guy” who loved his family and his sports — especially football and his beloved B.C. Lions — said Lindsay Wincherauk, a friend of Dowrey, who witnessed the assault.

Looking back at that “devastating” night, Wincherauk recalled Sunday how he and a group of men followed Woodward out on to Davie Street after the attack and detained him until police arrived.

“I confronted him and said, ‘Do you understand what you’ve just done?’ And he started shouting out ‘The faggot touched me. I’m not a fag.’ And a whole bunch of horrible, horrible things,” Wincherauk said Sunday.

In November 2010, Woodward’s sentence of six years in jail was welcomed by gay community leaders, who expressed satisfaction the judge had treated motivation as a key factor in a tough sentence.

Woodward filed an appeal, but in May 2011 the B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed it, upholding the original sentence.

Two years later, in May 2013, Woodward was granted full parole, less than halfway through his sentence, according to a report from Xtra, a gay and lesbian news outlet.

The Xtra report quoted the Parole Board of Canada’s decision, which said Woodward believed his sentence was “too punitive,” and noted that he had “demonstrated genuine remorse.”

Dowrey’s death marked a “tragic day,” said Dara Parker, executive director of QMUNITY, B.C.’s queer resource centre.

It was a stark reminder, Parker said, that despite some hard-won progress “there are many people who still experience discrimination that ranges from subtle homophobia to overt physical violence.”

The assault was “particularly disturbing, Parker said, “not because it’s unique in terms of a gay bashing — but that it happened in our village, in a gay pub, in a perceived safe space.”