Jewish restaurant owners staged what some have called “the most brazen” hate crime Winnipeg, Manitoba, had ever seen, Canadian authorities say.
Police arrested three family members, Alexander Berent, 56; Oxana Berent, 48; and Maxim Berent, 29, Wednesday and charged them with public mischief and faking a hate crime, CBC News reported. The family allegedly decorated the walls of their Jewish restaurant with swastikas multiple times and reported the supposed hate crimes to the police.
The Berent family reported the most recent of the crimes on April 18 and told police that a woman had been assaulted and the walls of BerMax Caffé and Bistro were spray-painted with anti-Semitic graffiti, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation division.
Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth announced Wednesday the restaurant owners staged the attack. The family denies this claim. The Berents had reported several times over the past five months that the restaurant was vandalized, and police suspect these past anti-Semitic incidents were staged as well, The Washington Post reported.
“We didn‘t, because we don’t joke about swastikas on our walls,” Oxana Berent said in an interview with the afternoon radio show “Up to Speed.”
“My grandmother’s family, they died in the Holocaust,” she said. “Just her and her little brother survived, the whole family. We don’t joke about that.”
When reports of the fake crime originally circulated, Jewish Federation of Winnipeg spokesperson Adam Levy called it “the most brazen act of anti-Semitism that we’ve seen in our community, and perhaps ever.”
“We are shocked and deeply disturbed by today’s news,” the federation said Wednesday in a statement to CBC News. “It is deplorable that anyone would make false allegations of anti-Semitism, especially claims of such a serious nature, for any kind of gain.”
“False complaints of criminal acts of anti-Semitism are not only illegal, they undermine the important work necessary to counter anti-Semitism and hate in all forms,” the federation said.
A minister at Westworth United Church cancelled a Thursday night vigil after authorities revealed the crime was staged. “We decided we are all too raw right now to hold anything,” Minister Loraine Mackenzie Shepherd said to CBC News.
The community had also organized a fundraiser for the family, but the money raised for the Berents has now been returned according to WaPo.
“I can see this as a betrayal of the community and a betrayal of also the police,” Ran Ukashi of B’nai Brith Canada, a grassroots human rights advocacy group, said in a statement. “It’s a waste of time, and of course people might roll their eyes at incidents in the future and think ‘Oh is it true or is it not?’ when in reality we know that the preponderance of incidents that are reported are in fact true.”
Canadian reporter Keean Bexte said Friday the Berent family’s lease for their cafe was terminated following the news that they faked the hate crime.
“I’m live on location in Winnipeg as BerMax Bistro is closing down,” Bexte wrote. “The lease has been terminated following charges placed on the family for staging a neo-Nazi hate crime. More to come.”
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