As his court date approaches, questions keep piling up about Rev. Darryl Gray's high-profile case. Has this Montreal black community leader been made a martyr?
Just over a month ago Rev. Darryl Gray stood at the pulpit of the Union United Church, the place where he has tended to his flock as pastor and built a reputation in this city.
"I pray to a God who says, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do,’" he told the congregation. Gray was quoting the words that Jesus is said to have spoken from the cross, referring to those who had put him to death. When Gray spoke them, he was bearing the full weight of his own cross. Days before that April 26 sermon it was revealed that Gray was facing a charge of assaulting his wife in an incident on January 2. Both he and his wife, Olive Simmonds, deny the charge. But a police report filed by officers who were called to Gray’s NDG home that night says otherwise.
The report, which was leaked to The Gazette, describes the officers arriving at the Gray home to find the Christmas tree overturned and Simmonds upstairs in the bedroom, crying. The officers reported redness and a bruise under her left eye, and said it "seemed" she had been hit. Simmonds refused to say she was hit at that time, and maintains that position now.
Hour has learned that at least two witnesses are prepared to testify they saw Simmonds shortly after the alleged incident and that she did not show any signs of bruising or redness on her face.
"I can confirm there are two people who have come forward to say they saw her that day, and that she did not have a black eye," says Daniel Lighter, Gray’s attorney.
Gray is perhaps the most high-profile leader of the black community in Montreal. He leads an active, dedicated parish in Little Burgundy, was elected the interim leader of anglo-rights group Alliance Quebec, has offered sanctuary to refugees facing deportation, and is an outspoken critic of the police and police violence in particular. (Gray is currently absent from the church, taking a "self-imposed leave" until June 10, the day before his court hearing.)
The result of years of work, Gray’s media and community profile is partly what has driven an allegation of domestic abuse from something that might otherwise have generated a small news item (or none at all) to the front page and the nightly news.
While the fundamental question in this case is whether another woman was assaulted in our society, it is increasingly becoming less about what happened that day and more about what has happened since. The coincidences, leaks, and accusations of unfair media coverage have come to dominate this story.
When Gray quoted Jesus, calling for forgiveness for "them," for those "who know not what they do," he was perhaps speaking of the media, of his critics, of those behind the persistent whisperings that have caught the ears of so many even before this case became public.
From leak to flood
April brought showers to the offices of Global TV in Montreal. But rather than rain from the sky, it was rumours that poured down. The word on the street was that Rev. Gray was likely to be charged with something. And so each day for a period of roughly three weeks a Global reporter made a stop at the municipal courthouse and plugged in Rev. Gray’s name to see if anything came up. On April 21 the rumours became true when court documents revealed Gray was being charged with a single count of simple assault, and had been issued a summons to appear in Montreal municipal court. Global News broke the story that evening.
Ward Smith, news director at Global, can’t say where the rumours came from, but says they were sufficient to warrant conducting research.
"I know that this is a very sensitive issue for everyone," he says. "We did our due diligence, followed up on hearsay and verified that there was a charge…. If we hadn’t reported it, that would have been showing a bias."
Global is not the only news organization to be led to documents that otherwise might not have caught the attention of the media. On April 27, The Gazette was leaked a copy of the police report on the incident, which had yet to be provided to Gray, his wife, or their lawyer. Once they verified it was authentic, says Gazette editor-in-chief Peter Stockland, it was clear that the contents needed to be published.
"[Rev. Gray] has clearly taken on some people who are angry at him but our role isn’t to mediate that dispute or pull back," says Stockland. "[Our job] is to report factual information as it comes before us. We had facts and information that made a compelling news story and we handled it ethically."
Of concern to the black community and other supporters of Gray, aside from the weight and tone of media coverage, is the question of who was leading the media to these documents.
"What are the motives and why was it given to the media at that point in time?" asks Michael Gittens of the Côte-des-Neiges Black Community Association. "We want an answer. Why?"
"We’re not going to get into a debate over motives," says Stockland.
As reported in Hour two weeks ago, Gray’s lawyer suspects it was the police that leaked the report to The Gazette. The police are now conducting an internal investigation to determine if that is the case.
Questions of timing
Combined with the whispering campaign and media leaks, the timing of the charge itself strikes many as suspect. It was filed over three months after the alleged incident occurred, and came just over a month after Gray made some of his strongest condemnations of the police over their handling of the death of Rohan Wilson, a 28-year-old black man who died during an intervention involving the Montreal police. News of the charge also hit the media a month before the contentious leadership election for Alliance Quebec that Gray was expected to win.
Rob Bull, a spokesman for Alliance Quebec, says Gray still "seems to be in the lead" for the elections on May 29. But that an incident, which allegedly took place in January, is coming to light at the exact time of the campaign is something Bull finds curious.
"What a funny coincidence," he says. "If you’re looking for villains, there is a plethora of potential ones."
Some question why, if they believed an assault had occurred, the police did not arrest Gray back in January, or at least bar him from the family home.
"Normally, if such a claim of abuse is made the police do not allow the family to stay together or the husband to stay in the house," says Gittens. "If such a thing took place, then why [charge him] now, four months later?"
(The decision to press charges falls to the crown prosecutor, not the police.)
Others wonder why, if in fact they had simply been arguing, Gray’s wife called 911.
"What she said is they had a fight and she was very upset, the Christmas tree was down, and he stormed off in a car she had rented," says Lighter, Gray’s attorney. "She decided she wanted someone to intervene."
The questions and suspicions abound. With Gray’s hearing set for June 11, we may begin to find out what really happened that January day.
But the other, conspiracy-laden questions and suspicions that swirl around this matter are unlikely to be put to rest. If Gray is guilty, they will seem irrelevant. If he is innocent, one wonders if he will still pray for forgiveness of those "who know not what they do."