News / Halifax

'Remember his passion:' Raymond Taavel's partner speaks about the sentence, lawsuit, and keeping legacy alive

There are plans with the city to find a place where public art can stand in honour of Taavel.

A photo of Raymond Taavel.

Contributed

A photo of Raymond Taavel.

Every April a small rainbow bouquet appears on Gottingen Street, left for a Halifax man whose passion and drive to help others will “echo for a long time.”

Nearly four years after popular gay-rights activist Raymond Taavel was killed outside the Menz Bar on Gottingen Street on April 17, 2012, Andre Noel Denny has been sentenced to eight years for manslaughter, and the East Coast Forensic Hospital has made significant changes in how they handle patients’ access to the community.

“It’s a huge relief that the criminal trial … has finally come to an end,” Darren Lewis, Taavel's partner, said on Wednesday in Temple Bar, one of the three eateries he co-owns and operates on Barrington Street.

With about six years credit for time served, Denny, who has schizophrenia and was sentenced last week, has two years left plus three years of probation. The Review Board will decide if he will serve it in jail or continue at the forensic hospital.

“I don’t think had there been 100-years sentence I’d feel any better, or worse,” Lewis said, adding he only hopes Denny gets the medical help he needs to not be a danger to others or himself ever again.

At the time of Taavel’s death and in the vigils and conversations held since then, Lewis said the outpouring of emotion and support for Taavel from the LGBTQ community in Halifax and city at large has been amazing, but not unexpected when one looks at the drive he had to fight injustice in all forms.

“I hope that they remember his passion,” Lewis said.

“His wanting to be a strong activist, but to always do it in a compassionate way.”

Raymond Taavel

Contributed

Raymond Taavel

Besides his assistant circulation manager position at the Shambala Sun magazine, Taavel wrote for and edited the Wayves publication, held various roles with Halifax Pride, pushed for gay marriage nationally, helped found the national Fierté Canada Pride, and was instrumental in convincing then-Mayor Peter Kelly to hoist the first pride flag.

“Raymond basically camped out at City Hall on the front steps,” Lewis said with a laugh.

"His general presence everywhere is going to echo for a long time."

Taavel’s family from Sault St. Marie, Ont. and Lewis donated a rainbow flag to City Hall in 2014, which he said was touching not only for them but for Mayor Mike Savage and the current councillors to remember who “finally got that thing to fly over the city” and how times have changed.

Lewis said only now is he feeling he can plan for the future, and have happy memories of Taavel come flooding back rather than tears.

“When I think of Raymond now it’s … more heartwarming that heart-wrenching,” Lewis said.

“But that hole in the heart never goes away. I don’t know if it ever will.”

Lewis tends a small flower bed on Gottingen Street across from the Menz Bar, and every April on the anniversary of Taavel’s death he leaves a bouquet of rainbow-coloured flowers there, now next to a plaque in his memory.

A photo of the flowers Darren Lewis left beside Taavel's plaque.

Contributed

A photo of the flowers Darren Lewis left beside Taavel's plaque.

There are also plans with the city to find a place where public art can stand in honour of Taavel.

Although Lewis said with a smile Taavel that wasn’t a saint, and had problems like anyone, he always seemed to surmount those things.

“[He was] one of those people who stood out,” Lewis said.  

“He just took that lead, and I think that often that’s what drove the others to carry on.”

Lawsuit against forensic hospital resolved

Raymond Taavel’s family have resolved their lawsuit against the East Coast Forensic Hospital in the wake of a direct apology and promise changes have been made.

Darren Lewis, Taavel’s partner, said Wednesday the hospital issue was the final piece to be resolved since the province made an official apology in December.

The hospital also sent an apology in writing and a “comprehensive” document detailing what has been done with the 18 recommendations that came out of a review after Andre Denny failed to return back to the facility while on an unescorted leave, Lewis said.

“It wasn’t about punitive damages,” Lewis said.

“You people have got to admit that you screwed up, that you had some serious issues here, and I want to see that you fixed them.”

Although Lewis said he didn’t feel comfortable about Denny returning to the hospital “for the longest time,” he is taking a leap of faith that the right checks are in place for all patients.

There now are many more people involved in every aspect of reintegrating people back into the community and deciding what access they have, as well as having someone in charge of that procedure - which didn’t exist in 2012, Lewis said.

Those who go out now carry phones so they can be reached quickly, Lewis said. Although he and Taavel’s family were hoping to see tracking devices implemented so patients could be instantly located if they don’t answer their phone, that has been ruled as a breach of rights since patients assumedly have been deemed not criminally responsible.

Since Denny is a dual-status offender with a criminal conviction, Lewis said his case may be different and they will wait to see what the hospital decides after his probation.

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