Arrest warrants have been issued for three members of a Winnipeg family accused of staging a hate crime at their now shuttered River Heights restaurant after they moved to California in advance of their impending trial.
Alexander and Oxana Berent and their son Maxim Berent made national headlines last year after claiming their Corydon Avenue restaurant, BerMax Caffé + Bistro, had been the target of four anti-Semitic attacks. Days after the final alleged attack, police charged the Berents with public mischief, saying security video from multiple locations cast doubt on their claims.
A trial set for Oct. 13 was cancelled last week after court heard the three accused are in Los Angeles, with no expectation that they will return.
"They aren’t coming back at this point from Los Angeles," Crown attorney Dave Mann told provincial court Associate Chief Judge Anne Krahn.
Krahn issued arrest warrants for the three accused "in anticipation of them failing to appear for that trial."
An affidavit filed by the family confirmed they had relocated to California in January and claimed they were receiving support from a local synagogue after being ostracized in Winnipeg.
Last month, Krahn denied a motion by the Berents to try them remotely from California.
At a hearing last week, the Berents withdrew a motion to adjourn the trial.
Were the three accused to return to Winnipeg now, there would not be enough time to satisfy the two-week quarantine period before the trial, supporting the conclusion they have no immediate plans to leave Los Angeles, Mann said.
A source familiar with the case said it is unlikely justice officials would move to have the family extradited.
"In order to institute an extradition hearing, there is a protocol you have to go through and it’s not easy," the source said. "Ottawa would have to approach the Americans requesting extradition and to do that on a public mischief charge would be absolutely ludicrous. They wouldn’t waste the time on it, that sort of thing is reserved for murders or a serious hit-and-run."
In the last alleged incident at the café, on April 18, 2019, Oxana Berent told police she was attacked and left unconscious by intruders who trashed the interior of the eatery and spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls.
Police at the time called the incident "incredibly disturbing" and Winnipeg’s Jewish community rallied around the family. Just days later, police arrested the café owners, alleging they staged the attacks.
More than 25 officers from three separate units spent over 1,000 hours investigating the final alleged incident, Winnipeg Police Service chief Danny Smyth told reporters at the time.
"I am hugely disappointed and frankly angry that this family has used hate and racism in such a disingenuous way," Smyth said. "In doing so, they have allowed cynicism to creep into this discussion, cynicism that trivializes genuine victims of hate."
Court records and interviews with sources show the family was facing serious financial troubles in the lead-up to the alleged hate crimes, including six figure debts, lawsuits, a real estate lien and an inability to sell their restaurant or make their rent payments.
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.