I’m a little late getting to this, but I was quoted in this story that appeared on Xtra.ca last week about an alleged gaybashing that I reported on nearly two years ago, which finally finished its way through the legal system with the result that the presiding judge found that there was no evidence that a gaybashing occurred, and that the purported victim was indeed the bully in the situation.
That was an ugly story, which I’m not linking to, in order to prevent it moving even futher up the Google rankings.
Essentially, a guy named Jon Chaisson called Xtra claiming he’d been bashed (he’d also called several other news outlets and the local city councillor) in the King Subway Station. I was assigned the story, which typically means get the vitcim’s story, and confirm whatever you can with the police. In an unusual turn, since I had the alleged attacker’s name, I managed to find his contact info on Google and gave him a phone call, fully expecting him to say something like “no comment” or “speak to my lawyer.” Instead, the guy, Collin Dillon, invited me to come meet him and his girlfriend, who was a witness to the incident. The guy turned out to be far from the bigotted caricature that Chaisson had portrayed him to be — in fact, I found him much more trustworthy and convincing than Chaisson. Dillon also disputed several of Chaisson’s facts, including the timeline of the incident, and whether or not Chaisson had fought back. Dillon had multiple bruises and cuts on his face which seemed inconsistent with Chaisson’s story that he only hit him once in self-defence.
When I called Chaisson to clarify some of these details, he was outraged that I would dare question him. He said he wouldn’t speak to Xtra again. He also refused to give us a picture of his injuries (he instead supplied a corporate glamour shot that Xtra ran alongside the story in a pretty questionable decision) or documents of his purported medical expenses (Chaisson had claimed that Dillon broke one of his teeth — a fact I placed in the lede without verifying… Ooops. In the end, Chaisson apparently couldn’t prove that the the chipped tooth wasn’t preexisting). He at one point claimed to be planning a civil suit against Dillon, and suddenly a motive emerged.
After the initial story went online, the comments section was flooded with people claiming that Chaisson was a scam artist. A few of my friends and acquaintances told me stories of similarly shady encounters with him. Xtra decided not to follow the story.
Fast forward a year to the criminal trial, and I’m subpoenaed by the defence. My investigation, it turns out, is what led the defence to figure out where Chaisson’s story was changing over time, to prove that he was altering his story to suit the details as the emerged, and what his motive for lying was. Chaisson alleged on the stand (I’m told) that I’d twisted his words and invented quotes to make him appear like a liar. So I was needed to testify, essentially, that I don’t do that because I am a good journalist. Cue several days of me waiting in College Park to give my testimony (stretched, unfortunately, over several months due in part to my touring schedule).
Let me get something out of the way: Criminal trials are way more exciting on TV. Example of an actual question I was forced to answer on the stand: “What do you mean when you write something in a story in quotation marks?” Sidebar: My tradition of being woefully underdressed for every occasion continued in court, where I leared that even in June, when you’re going to spend the rest of the day on a bus to London, it’s ill-advised to show up at court in jeans and a T-shirt.
Ultimately, the judge found that my testimony was more convincing than Chaisson’s, in large part because I have no motivation to lie. That wasn’t the silver bullet in the case — Chaisson’s story was undermined by several factors including his own inconsistencies on the stand, and there were a few witnesses who backed up Dillon’s version of events — but it apparently helped bring this story to its conclusion.
While I’ve chatted with Dillon since the verdict came out, he’s eager to move on and didn’t want to be quote on the record. Suffice it to say, this was a brutal, nearly two-year-long ordeal for him, and a costly one. I hope this is truly behind him now.