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Vancouver man pleads guilty in reporter Trump rally assault

Court heard Chris Savva accepts full responsibility for his actions and that he "has a great deal of embarrassment and remorse for the events of that day."
Chris Savva has pleaded guilty to assaulting photojournalist Ben Nelms in the face at a rally on Jan. 6, 2020.

The man accused of assaulting a CBC reporter at a 2021 Trump rally has pleaded guilty and received a conditional discharge in Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court Sept. 2.

Chris Savva was accused of assaulting journalist Ben Nelms, who was photographing the rally.

Nelms was attacked as protesters were gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery on Jan. 6, 2021, the day of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Some held signs saying "TRUMP 2020," others waved U.S. flags with the country's Second Amendment about the right to bear arms scrawled on them, and some paraded placards proclaiming "BIBLE OVER LOGIC OVER SCIENCE 100%."

Midway through the protest, one person lunged at Nelms, punched him in the face, then walked away.

Crown prosecutor Damien Assonitis told Judge James Bahen that Savva was that person.

He said Savva ran from the crowd and struck Nelms on a cheekbone, leaving him with a numb and red face. Assonitis said the blow was captured on film by other journalists as well as on surveillance cameras.

“This occurred on the context where Mr. Nelms should be free from violence when he is performing his public duty as a journalist,” Assonitis said.

He said Nelms was at another event later that year and recognized Savva from a scar on his face. He took photos.

Savva was charged on Dec. 13 and was released on conditions.

While Assonitis asked for a suspended sentence and a year’s probation, defence lawyer Matt Smith asked for the conditional discharge with similar probation conditions.

The discharge leaves Savva without a criminal record.

Bahen said Savva could not have known Nelms was at the event working as a journalist.

Smith said Savva was just walking past the gallery and saw Trump and anti-Trump people in a confrontation. He said Savva was a member of neither group. The defence lawyer said Savva was trying to separate people in conflict, something he now admits was his first mistake.

Smith said Savva has several mental health conditions, which can cause him to become easily overwhelmed. He told the court the attack on Nelms resulted from panic.

“He accepts full responsibility for his actions,” Smith said. “Mr. Savva has a great deal of embarrassment and remorse for the events of that day.”

Smith said Savva has been taking counselling and joined a church, where he socializes in attempts to better himself.