A Nova Scotia man has been found guilty of inciting hatred in a cross-burning incident last year near Windsor, N.S., in a precedent-setting case for Canada.
Justin Chad Rehberg, 20, pleaded guilty to criminal harassment as his trial was set to begin in Windsor provincial court last month, but he pleaded not guilty to inciting hatred.
On Friday, Judge Claudine MacDonald convicted him on that charge, saying that the burning of a cross is closely associated with the Ku Klux Klan in the United States.
Rehberg was charged after Michelle Lyon, who is white, and Shayne Howe, who is black, awoke Feb. 21 to find a cross with a noose on it burning outside their Poplar Grove, N.S., home. Their five children, between the ages of two and 17, were home at the time.
Crown attorney Darrell Carmichael said this is the first time a cross-burning has been recognized as a hate crime in Canada.
"I think it is a really significant decision for our country," Carmichael told reporters outside the courtroom. "There has never been an official court decision which states that cross-burning in this context is a hate crime."
Carmichael said he would be seeking a prison term for Rehberg, who will return to court Dec. 14 for sentencing on both charges.
Rehberg, who was released from custody pending his sentencing, said nothing as he walked out of the courthouse.
'We all bleed the same'
Last month, Carmichael and defence lawyer Chris Manning presented an agreed statement of facts, in which Rehberg admitted to assembling the cross, treating it with a flammable substance and setting it on fire.
Both the defence and Crown agree that someone yelled, "Die, n----r, die."
Manning argued there was no proof that it incited others to action. In fact, Manning said, the community rallied in support of Lyon and Howe.
Darrell Boutilier, Rehberg's uncle, said Friday that his nephew was willing to apologize to the couple and that should have been the end of the matter.
"I'm not saying that it should have been done because it shouldn't have been," Boutilier told reporters outside the courthouse. "But everybody makes mistakes when you're young. I mean, I've done foolish things in my crazy youth, but that's life."
Lyon and Howe told reporters that they were happy with the judge's decision.
"I got emotional in the courtroom because I kind of relived the whole incident all over again," said Lyon. "In the end it was good, it was a good outcome in the end."
"We all bleed the same," Howe added. "No matter our colour or how we look, we still bleed the same, we walk the same, we work the same.
"For that conviction to come through, it makes me happy to see that they're not tolerating this kind of stuff around here anymore."
Nathan Rehberg, Justin's brother, is charged with criminal harassment, public incitement of hatred, mischief and uttering threats.
His trial is set to start on Monday in front of a different judge.