Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hair-burning incident no hate crime: Crown

Teen offender sentenced to 18 months probation

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

Now 17, the girl's attacker previously pleaded guilty to a charge of assault with a weapon in the November 2011 incident at the southwest Winnipeg high school he used to attended.

The case attracted national media attention after being construed as a potential hate crime due to the offender's anti-Semitic comment.

Senior Crown prosecutors ultimately declined to pursue related criminal charges.

The offender and the 15-year-old victim crossed paths near his locker and they began talking, Crown attorney Colin Soul said Thursday.

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

'He's a jerk and a bully. This was an extremely serious offence'

-- Crown attorney Colin Soul

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

It wasn't the offender's intention to burn her hair and he didn't pick on her because she was Jewish, Crown attorney Colin Soul to provincial court Judge Robin Finlayson.

Instead, he made the comment because he wanted to taunt her in a manner specific to her.

"He's a jerk and a bully," Soul said of the teen's motivations. "This was an extremely serious offence."

Soul read the victim's impact statement in court. The girl said the ordeal "changed her world upside-down."

She was not present for the sentencing hearing.

The girl went to therapy to deal with the resulting fear and anger. At school, the offender's friends treated her as if she were to blame, she wrote.

The event came to light a few days after it happened and the offender was suspended. He ultimately withdrew from the school.

A resolution to the case has been on hold since last summer, when another judge ordered the teen to take part in a psychological evaluation. While it wasn't spelled out, the youth suffers from a "stress-induced psychosis," and had in the past been prescribed medication for a potential attention-deficit disorder.

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

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 was part of an "established pattern" of negative interactions some students at the school took part in, she added.

Given the context, it was difficult for the offender to fully realize the effect of his words and actions on the victim, said Bracken.

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

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

He called the school culture in which the offender made the anti-Semitic comment unhealthy and dark.

Finlayson endorsed a joint submission from the lawyers that the offender should serve 18 months of supervised probation. He had no criminal record at the time of the incident.

The probation requires the youth to 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."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 3, 2014 B2

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