Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Judge agrees lighter attack at a high school not racially motivated

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A girl who had her hair singed by a lighter-wielding classmate at a Winnipeg high school wasn't singled out because she was of the Jewish faith, but rather because her tormentor was "a jerk and a bully," a judge was told today.

Now 17, the girl's attacker previously pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon stemming from the November 2011 incident at the south Winnipeg high school he formerly attended.

According to prosecutors, the teen approached the then 15-year-old victim as they crossed paths near his locker and began talking to her.

He pulled out a lighter and started flicking it near her head, saying, "let's burn the Jew."

A portion of the victim's hair caught on the flame and was singed. She didn't suffer lasting physical injuries.

It was not the offender's specific intention to burn her hair, and he didn't pick on the classmate because she was Jewish, provincial court Judge Robin Finlayson was told.

Instead, he said what he did because he wanted to find a specific way to taunt her, court heard.

"He's a jerk and a bully," Crown attorney Colin Soul said. "This was an extremely serious offence."

In her victim impact statement, read to Finlayson by Soul, the girl said the incident "changed her world upside down."

She spent time in therapy to deal with the fear and anger that resulted. At school, her attacker's friends treated her as if what happened were her fault, she said.

A resolution to the concerning case has been on hold since last summer, when a judge ordered the offender to undergo a full psychological evaluation.

His therapist was of the opinion "the offence was an impulsive teenage action," defence lawyer Sandra Bracken said.

Soon after the incident, the offender sent the victim a text message to apologize after he couldn't find her at school to say he was sorry in person, said Bracken.

The anti-Semitic comment that was made was part of an "established pattern" of negative interactions students at the school engaged in, she added.

He's since come to see that what he did was "unfortunate (and) unacceptable," said Bracken.

Finlayson said he accepted the "totally vulgar and inappropriate" incident was impulsive, unplanned and not racially motivated.

He agreed to a joint submission put to him by the lawyers that the offender serve 18 months of supervised probation.

The order includes requirements that the youth seek out counselling, write a letter of apology to the victim and perform 75 hours of community service work.

"You are fortunate," said Finlayson. "I hope you take advantage of counselling."

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

 

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