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Editor's Report: The Bermax Incident and the Arrest of the Berents

by Rhonda Spivak, April 24, 2019

 

The Winnipeg Police are saying that an incident at Bermax cafe that was initially reported in the media as one of Winnipeg’s worst-ever hate crimes was apparently staged.

 

The owner of the BerMax Caffe Oxana Berent and her husband Alexander and son Maxim Berent have been arrested  and charged with public mischief on April 24. The offence involves intent to mislead and causing an officer to investigate an incident based on false information.

 

The police are saying that onApril 18 the three accused staged a robbery, and spray painted walls of their restaurant with anti-Semitic graffiti. The police are also saying that the  woman at the cafe that was reported to be injured was one of the owners, Oxana Berent. “I don’t believe the injuries were significant,” Chief of Police Danny Smyth said during a press conference on April 24. Oxana told CBC radio that "somebody grabbed me" and she fainted and woke up in an ambulance. (https://www.cbc.ca/news/we-didn-t-because-we-don-t-joke-about-swastika-on-our-walls-says-oxana-berent-owner-of-bermax-of-alleged-hate-crime-after-she-was-charged-for-public-mischief-1.5110016)

 

We must remember at all times that the accusations of public mischief leveled against the Berents have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, and until such time as this occurs the accused are presumed innocent. We will have to wait patiently to let the court process unfold to see if the Berents ultimately plead guilty or not guilty in this matter, once they have had the advice of defence counsel.

 

Smyth also said in the press conference held April 24 that the case against the Berents was based on video, forensic evidence and interviews. (In regard to video note that Maxim Berent and his father say they were at Home Depot when Oxana was alone in the cafe when sombody grabbed her. Police can check video from Home Depot to see if Maxim and his father appear on it.)

 

Smyth was clear in the press conference that he did not know what the  motive for the alleged conduct of the Berents was. If the police investigation does not reveal a motive, a skilled defence lawyer will no doubt try to use this lack of a motive to argue that the case has not been proven against the Berents beyond a reasonable doubt. (Note that the idea that the Berents staged this incident to get insurance money doesn't make sense as it doesn't seem there was enough real damage to the cafe to warrant the Berents getting extensive insurance money.) However technically motive is not an actual necessary element of the offence, and a conviction can be obtained without the prosecution proving what the

motive is.

 

On April 24, after being charged with public mischief, the Berents went on CBC radio and stuck to their version of events that they didn't fake the vandalism, that they were the victims of a hate crime, and Oxana Berent insisted that someone grabbed her in the cafe. (To see the Berents sticking to their story,go to: 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=wJX5CyYqwgY. To read about the Berents denying the charges go tohttps://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/bermax-caffe-owners-deny-charges-1.5110195.

 

My own piece of advice to the Berents (for what it's worth) is that it would be a good idea to retain legal counsel before they give any more public interviews, or make anymore statements to the police.

 

If the Berents subsequently plead guilty or are found guilty of public mischief in a court of law then there are a number of aggravating factors that are potentially at play when it comes to sentencing. These include the fact that the Berents  not only would have spray painted antisemitic graffiti , but would have staged a robbery, and made it appear that Oxana was injured during the course of such a robbery. This is a rather elaborate scheme. Moreover, their scheme meant that the police had to use more than 25 officers from three separate units dedicating 1000 hours to investigating the April 18 attack.

 

If the Berents are found to be guilty as charged, it will be up to the Berent lawyer/s (it's possible the Berents will have separate lawyers) to point out factors in their favour on sentencing. Is it possible that they were under some extreme financial distress  which made them take this misguided course of action (with the idea being that they would drum up customers for their restaurant  by appearing to be victims of a terrible hate crime)?. If so, will this increase their sentence or lighten it--will the court be sympathetic to factors such as financial distress? It remains to be seen.

 

If the Berents are found guilty, it is certainly possible that  their lawyer/s will tell the court that they have already suffered much in that they have lost their business. It is hard to believe that Bermax will survive as a business as a result of all of this [Update April 26-Bermax is closed. The landlord evicted them due to non-payment of rent on time]. It is possible that a court may issue a more lenient sentence if it believes that the Berents have already suffered extensively by losing their business. 

 

The previous incidents of alleged antisemitism at Bermax will also no doubt be at play in the court process. Will the police investigation also show beyond a reasonable doubt that the Berents also staged these prior incidents. If so, will the police lay other charges of public mischief against the Berents? If the Berents are found guilty of staging prior incidents this will no doubt be an aggravating factor when it comes to sentencing.

 

It is a good thing that in light of the arrest of the Berents the interfaith prayer vigil that was planned by the Westworth United Church in the aftermath of the April18 Bermax incident was cancelled. The Church said in a statement that "In response to the Winnipeg Police news release of Wednesday, April 24, and in consultation with members of the Jewish Community, Westworth United Church has decided to cancel its Interfaith Prayer Vigil for Thursday, April 25." To see the full statement go to:http://westworth.ca/2019/04/prayer-vigil-cancelled/

   

The Winnipeg Jewish Review left a message on  Maxim Berent's cell phone asking to speak to him about this matter and also sent him an email, but did not receive any response as of the time of writing this report.

 
 
 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.