05/06/2012 03:10 EDT | Updated 07/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Friends say memories of slain activist will help them strive for compassion

HALIFAX - Remembering the kind nature of a slain gay activist will help friends and supporters continue his efforts to build a more compassionate community, speakers at a memorial service said Sunday.

Raymond Taavel, 49, was beaten to death outside a bar in Halifax on April 17.

In a two-hour afternoon ceremony, about 200 people marched from the city's Grand Parade to St. Matthew's United Church to recall Taavel's work advocating for the human rights of gay and lesbian Canadians.

Rev. Jennifer Paty said Taavel's friends are already setting a moving example of forgiveness and healing as they grieve a man who led gay pride parades and wrote for a local gay rights magazine.

"The healing power of this community ... and the togetherness of this community has always kept me in awe," she said in the packed church in the city's downtown.

Andre Denny of Cape Breton is charged with second-degree murder in connection with Taavel's death.

He was a patient at the East Coast Forensic Hospital in Dartmouth who had failed to return to the hospital after a one-hour leave at the time of Taavel's death.

Denny, diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was a teenager, is undergoing a court-ordered psychiatric assessment and is scheduled to appear before a judge again on June 18.

NDP MP Megan Leslie said during the service that when she first heard about Taavel's death, she wanted to blame somebody for the loss of her friend and political supporter.

"I thought if I could point me finger at someone who was bad, and say 'You deserve to be punished,' I thought it would feel good."

"Then we could condemn and move on."

But Leslie said she and others couldn't take that approach, and instead found themselves asking deeper questions.

"Was it a failure of us, as a community, as a society?"

"This story has many victims. But we have done Raymond proud. We have risen to the challenge. ...We have been informed and we have been compassionate."

"We know we'll take the next step and we'll continue to strengthen our community."

"We will be informed and we will be compassionate and we will rise to that challenge."

She also joked about Taavel's constant criticisms of her, even while he worked on her political campaigns.

"Each and every email he was giving me hell for something," she said, during a talk that mixed laughter with tears.

Others remembered Taavel's motivational skills.

"I know that he inspired each one of you," said Daniel MacKay, who worked with Taavel at Wayves magazine.

"He coached people, he cajoled people, he urged people — probably most of you here — to take an interest in their communities and to shine light on the beautiful parts of life and to shed light on the ugly parts of life too."

"If you knew him, he encouraged you to write and to think and to act and to make the world a better place."

Taavel's family has already held a service for him in Ontario.

They have sent a written message to his friends in Halifax, thanking them for their support.

"Raymond died helping someone and had he lived, would have forgiven his assailant," they wrote.