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This article was published 26/4/2019 (635 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The signage above BerMax Caffé + Bistro was stripped down Friday as a bailiff evicted the Berent family for failing to pay rent — yet another sign of the financial struggles facing three co-owners accused of peddling a hate-crime hoax.
A letter posted to the door — addressed to Oxana Berent — says the landlord has terminated the lease and any further occupancy will be considered trespassing.
"You have not made any response to the landlord’s demand for rent of April 3, 2019, and the deadline set for your response has passed," the letter reads.
A source familiar with the situation told the Free Press the Berent family has struggled to consistently make rent at the building on the 1800 block of Corydon Avenue they’ve occupied since May 2014.
The eviction comes days after Winnipeg police charged Alexander Berent, 56; Oxana Berent, 48; and Maxim Berent, 29, with public mischief for allegedly staging an April 18 hate crime at the River Heights café. The incident included anti-Semitic graffiti, damage to the restaurant and an alleged assault on Oxana Berent.
In the wake of Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth publicly denouncing the Berents at a news conference Wednesday, the incident has been seized upon in certain dark corners of the internet as evidence that — falsely, advocates say — reinforces anti-Semitic and far-right conspiracy theories and tropes.
Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism in Oshawa, Ont., said it’s common for hate-crime hoaxes to be picked up and amplified by agenda-driven individuals with axes to grind.
"The unfortunate thing is these rare hoaxes become fodder for the far right and all these elements that take it as an example of hate-crime hoaxes being a big problem," Perry said. "In reality, they’re quite rare.
"I know of far more cases of hate crimes not being reported, as opposed to hate crimes that don’t really exist but have been reported."
Police-reported hate crime rose sharply in 2017 (the most recent year data is available for), according to Statistics Canada. That year, Canada experienced 2,073 hate crimes — an increase of 664 from 2016.
Perry said research suggests those figures represent only a small portion of the hate crimes that transpire in the country each year.
"The most generous estimate has it that about 25 to 30 per cent of hate crimes are reported. From my own work, I believe it’s closer to 15 to 20 per cent," she said.
That comment was echoed by Terry Wilson, a retired police officer and former lead investigator for the RCMP’s hate crime team in B.C., who says even when hate crimes are reported, they can get miscategorized. Wilson said he believes the WPS handled the BerMax incident perfectly, since it’s important for law enforcement to state publicly it is investigating a case as a possible hate crime early in the process.
"They absolutely did the right thing. In the initial stages, if there is evidence to suggest it was motivated by hate, you make that clear. You come out and say, ‘We’re looking at this as a potential hate crime,’" Wilson said, adding the strategy lets targeted communities know it’s being taken seriously.
"In this case, given the outcome of the investigation, the good thing is that it seems there wasn’t someone out there randomly attacking Jewish people."
The Berent family has not responded to multiple requests for comment. They have denied the charges against them and are scheduled to make their first court appearance May 29.
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Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.