Daronne Dobni “suffered a great deal” after being perceived in the community as a racist following his assault of an Indo-Canadian man, his lawyer said Thursday during Dobni’s sentencing hearing in Abbotsford provincial court.
Lawyer Rob Dhanu said Dobni, a Christian man, has been burdened with the “hate crime label” since being charged in May 2011.
This upset him greatly because his stepfather is Indo-Canadian, as were the landlords of the basement suite he was living in at the time of the incident, said Dhanu, also of Southeast Asian descent.
In handing Dobni, 30, a conditional discharge and 18 months’ probation, Judge Ronald Caryer said there was no evidence to show that the attack had been racially motivated.
“I accept that Mr. Dobni is not a racist … I don’t consider this to be a race-based crime. If it were, I would send Mr. Dobni to jail because that motivation is completely intolerable to this court,” he said.
Dobni was initially charged with assault with a weapon but pleaded guilty earlier this year to the lesser charge of assault.
The incident occurred on the morning of April 26, 2011. Zora Singh Bhangu, 64, was sitting with some friends on a bench in the area of Old Yale Road and Mitchell Street, near Fishtrap Creek Park in Abbotsford.
Crown counsel Scott Quendack told the court that Dobni was walking in the area and swore at the men as he approached them. When Bhangu arose from his seat and told Dobni to stop cursing, Dobni struck him across the head so hard that his turban was knocked off and he fell to the ground.
Bhangu suffered bruising and swelling on the right side of his face, near his eye.
There were discrepancies in witness reports about whether a beer bottle that Dobni had been holding was used to strike Bhangu.
Dobni, who lived in the neighbourhood, fled from the scene but was identified as the culprit a few days later after a resident took a picture of him and showed it to Bhangu.
Dhanu said the victim had been unable to identify Dobni in a police photo lineup, and he likely would have been acquitted had the matter gone to trial.
But he said Dobni felt such remorse for the incident that he was compelled to plead guilty and take responsibility for his actions.
Caryer expressed concerns about the impulsive nature of the assault.
“You should be able to sit on a bench in a park without someone coming up and hitting you,” he said.
Dahnu said Dobni committed “a violent act that was out of character in a time when he was emotionally unstable.” A mentor of his who ran a Christian-based youth drop-in centre had died of cancer a week before.
Dobni addressed the court, apologizing for his actions and saying he swore at the men because he was angry that they were looking at him. He said he attempted to walk away from the scene after Bhangu told him to stop swearing.
He said he attacked Bhangu because he had come after him waving a cane, but acknowledged that it was wrong to strike him.
Caryer said probation would be the best option for Dobni, rather than house arrest or jail, because he did not believe he would ever be involved in another crime.
His conditions include completing 50 hours of community service, taking any counselling or psychological assessments recommended by his probation officer, not consuming or possessing alcohol or drugs, and having no contact with Bhangu.
Dobni will have no criminal record if he completes his 18 months’ probation without further incident.
The judge also agreed that a letter of apology that Dobni had written should be forwarded to Bhangu.