04/17/2012 02:20 EDT | Updated 06/17/2012 05:12 EDT

Raymond Taavel Murder: Prominent Gay Activist In Halifax Killed

HALIFAX - Police in Halifax are investigating the beating death Tuesday of a prominent activist in the city's gay community and haven't excluded the possibility that it could have been motivated by hate.

Investigators say Raymond Taavel, 49, was attacked when he tried to break up a fight between two men at 2:30 a.m. in the city's downtown.

"There has been speculation online and in the community that this was a hate crime," Const. Brian Palmeter, a spokesman for Halifax Regional Police, said in a statement.

"While we cannot provide specific information about the case, as it is still under investigation, police have spoken to a number of witnesses and are considering all possibilities with respect to the motive."

Barry Boyce, a co-worker with Taavel at Shambhala Sun magazine, says police came to his office and said Taavel had been killed outside Menz Bar on Gottingen Street.

"Raymond was just such a lovely person," he said. "He was an activist without anger."

Taavel was assistant circulation manager at the magazine, wrote for Wayves Magazine and worked with gay organizations both provincially and nationally, Boyce said.

He described Taavel as a deeply reflective Christian who lived by the biblical saying, "Love thy neighbour."

Taavel died at the scene, police said, and a man was later found in a nearby alley and arrested.

Police said Andre Noel Denny is to appear in Halifax provincial court on Wednesday to face a charge of second-degree murder.

Police also confirmed Denny had failed to return to the East Coast Forensic Unit — a local psychiatric facility — after he was granted a one-hour pass Monday night. The police statement says he was reported missing at 8:47 p.m., and officers were dispatched at 9:01 p.m. to look for him but were unable to find him.

An outdoor vigil was held Tuesday evening in front of Menz Bar, which describes itself as the "Heart of Halifax's Gay Village."

Dozens of people packed the street, stretching a large rainbow flag from one side to the other. They lit thin tapers and sang "Amazing Grace" before holding a moment of silence.

Halifax councillor Dawn Sloane reflected on her long friendship with Taavel, recounting stories of their hijinks on the dance floor and how she admired his approach to life.

"He would have a philosophy of you can do anything if you try — be meticulous, do it right," she said through tears as a crowd filled the street outside the bar where Taavel died.

"And he would ask questions — lots of them — because he wanted to make sure it was done right. And that's why I think having someone like Raymond for a friend was a blessing."

Kevin Kindred, spokesman for the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, described Taavel as a "gentle and passionate" man who once served as the co-chairman of the Halifax Gay Pride week festival.

"He was never shy about expressing his passionate views about what needed to be done and, particularly, anything to bring a higher profile to the existence of our community and the struggle for equality," said Kindred, whose advocacy group is dedicated to promoting equality for people of all sexual orientations.

"Raymond was friends with everybody. You could ... count on seeing Raymond at any event, fundraiser, rally, seminar, lecture."

The board of directors of Halifax Pride issued a statement, saying Taavel's death marked the loss of a "much loved and well-respected member of our community."

The group's chairman, Krista Snow, remembered Taavel as a "mild-mannered, friendly guy" who was deeply involved in many facets of the gay community.

"To say he will be missed fails to do justice to his memory," she said.

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