A 37-year-old man who assaulted a senior citizen in broad daylight in downtown Victoria was sentenced to a year in jail after the judge said such behaviour “attacks the foundation of this peaceful city.”
“His behaviour instills fear in all law-abiding citizens well beyond the victim in this case,” said Judge Mayland McKimm.
Byron Thomas Hobbs was panhandling on Douglas Street near View Street on May 15 when he asked Henne Stibbe, 78, for money.
After a morning of grocery shopping, Stibbe was headed home for lunch and focused on catching her bus on Douglas Street near View Street.
She maintains she ignored the panhandler and he spat on her shoulder.
Hobbs, who the court heard had taken methamphetamines for three days prior, perceived that Stibbe thought he was fat and should be working, the court heard.
He spat at her, then pursued her.
Stibbe defensively lifted her collapsible cane. Hobbs grabbed it. When she fell to the ground, he kicked her in the stomach.
Numerous bystanders and Bay Centre security rushed to her aid while at least one person called police and followed Hobbs, giving police his location, until he was apprehended five minutes later.
Panhandling in downtown Victoria is, most times, a relatively peaceful exchange of words and glances and money. In this case, McKimm said, the unwritten code of respectful engagement was broken.
“The city of Victoria struggles to deal effectively with those who suffer from mental-health struggles, addiction issues and homelessness,” the judge said. “Many of those individuals need to resort to panhandling to supplement the support the state is able to provide. Done in a respectful manner by both the panhandler and the citizen, many citizens are happy to provide tokens of charity.
“If the citizens become concerned that a refusal of their charity will lead to personal violence, people will demand the practice cease and will most certainly refuse to provide any such charity.”
In a victim-impact statement read to the court, Stibbe said she feels vulnerable and afraid.
“Since this happened, I cry all the time,” Stibbe told the court. “Even during the time the Crown assured me that Mr. Hobbs was in custody and it would be safe for me to go about my business, I find that I look over my shoulder.”
Stibbe, whose husband died in 2016, conducts most of her business downtown. “What am I going to do now if I don’t feel safe going there?”
She said the physical wounds she suffered from the assault — including to her elbow and knee and bruised ribs — have healed, but her emotional anguish has endured. “I am scared.”
Stibbe said this kind of attack hurts the reputation of “a city I love.” She’s considering moving.
“Right now, we’re in discussion about me selling my home and moving out,” she told the court. “But this is the house that Jack and I wanted to retire to.”
If there’s any light, she said, it’s the strangers who came to her side and stayed with her.
“I am so very very grateful for the people, strangers, who came to my aid.”
Defence lawyer Jeremy Mills told the court his client was remorseful, but McKimm called his apology “hollow and utterly empty.”
“He insists that the victim instigated the assault by offending him with her words.”
McKimm said a pre-sentence report captured Hobbs’s view that there were factors that influenced his behaviour.
“He described feeling very angry because of being forced to take medications without his consent,” the judge said. “He remembered thinking to himself before the offence: ‘If I am forced to take medications that should control my behaviour, then I will show them that the medication is not working.’ ”
Hobbs has received diagnoses of schizophrenic disorder, personality disorder and maladaptive and narcissistic personality traits, but does not accept them, McKimm said.
The judge said Hobbs has a “serious criminal record” including previous convictions for assault causing bodily harm. “The sum total of his record suggests he was on probation for all of his violent offending and was also on probation for the offence before this court.”
McKimm said Hobbs’s guilty plea in June helped his case, but noted the assault was captured on video. “The behaviour of Mr. Hobbs was atrocious and requires a strong statement of denunciation and deterrence.”
Hobbs was sentenced to 12 months in jail. The maximum sentence is 18 months. Credited with 173 days for time served, he will be in jail for 191 days.
He must serve three years probation and was given several conditions, including having no direct or indirect contact or communication with Stibbe.