Warrant issued for Winnipeg family charged with staging hate crime at café
'There's a basis to believe ... the Berents will not be returning for the trial,' judge says
A warrant has been issued for three family members accused of faking an anti-Semitic attack at their Winnipeg cafe.
Lawyers for the family say they are in the United States and are unable to return to Canada for trial due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oxana Berent, along with her husband, Alexander, and son, Maxim, were charged with public mischief after the Bermax Caffe was vandalized and spray-painted with anti-Semitic graffiti last year.
They have denied that they staged the crime.
"There's a basis to believe, and with the agreement of counsel, that the Berents will not be returning for the trial," provincial court Associate Chief Judge Anne Krahn said Friday.
Defence lawyer Michael Lazar said the family has since lost their business and home.
"They were rather ostracized in Winnipeg in general and within the Jewish community as well," Lazar said.
An affidavit filed in court said the family relocated in January to Los Angeles, where they are receiving support from a Chabad community, an Orthodox movement within Judaism.
Lazar said the family has maintained constant contact with their lawyers and participated in court proceedings. A request to do the trial through video conference was denied.
But due to self-isolation policies brought in under the pandemic and the family's financial situation, the lawyer said it's impossible for the Berents to return to Winnipeg for a trial scheduled for later this month.
Adjourning the trial to a later date would have been an imperfect solution, Lazar added. He said the Crown and defence lawyers agreed to request the endorsed warrant for the family.
The warrant essentially puts a pause on court proceedings until the pandemic is under better control and the family can return for a trial, Lazar said.
Reports of a hate crime at the BerMax Caffe and Bistro in April 2019 shocked many in the city. The business was vandalized and spray-painted with anti-Semitic graffiti the night before Passover. Oxana Berent also reported being assaulted.
Six days later, police said they believed the whole event was staged and the family members were charged.
Court records show the cafe had faced mounting financial troubles, including a six-figure lawsuit from a lender.