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This article was published 19/4/2019 (237 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
An employee was attacked and a River Heights restaurant targeted for the fourth time in five months by a hate crime involving anti-Semitic graffiti and property damage Thursday night.
The BerMax Caffé and Bistro at 1800 Corydon Ave. was closed Friday — the start of Passover, a traditional Jewish celebration — and blocked off by police tape after what community members are calling one of the worst local acts of anti-Semitism in recent history.
Winnipeg Police Service officers and other emergency personnel arrived at the restaurant around 10:45 p.m., just after closing, and found the injured woman inside. The eatery was severely vandalized, including broken furniture and spray-painted, hate-related graffiti.
The woman was taken to hospital in stable condition, treated and released.
Const. Rob Carver called the incident "very troubling," and said the WPS major crimes unit and hate crime co-ordinator are investigating all aspects of the incident, which includes robbery.
"In all the years I’ve been doing this job, I’ve actually never seen an incident quite like this," said Carver, a WPS officer of 26 years, referring to the level of property damage combined with the attack on the woman.
"Any time there is an incident of hate-related crime, it is incredibly disturbing. These communities feel hugely threatened. Not only historically, over the last year in other areas of the world, in other countries, we’re seeing hate crimes that have become very violent."
Police would not disclose what was taken or how the woman came to be attacked — if she walked in on the crime in progress or if she was attacked and the theft took place afterward.
Carver told reporters the restaurant has been the target of similar crimes four times in five months. In January, the café’s front window was sprayed with graffiti, and again on Feb. 1, with the building and fence targeted. Late last year, a rock was thrown at the front window, BerMax owner Maxim Berent told the Free Press in a Feb. 3 article.
"This has escalated in nature and severity and this is the most serious by far," said Ron East, a Jewish community activist and founder of the Stop Israel Hate group, which stands against anti-Semitism. "It’s the worst because of the level of destruction and the attack of the employee and the spraying of the hate-filled graffiti — and all of this on the eve of one of our most important holidays."
Several police cars and at least 10 officers were at the scene Friday morning, which extended to other businesses in the strip mall.
Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, a minister at nearby Westworth United Church, and her partner, Nancy Pinnell, were dismayed to find out the severity of the incident when they went to the BerMax for lunch after the Good Friday service.
"We heard something happened last night; we didn’t know what, so we stopped by to have lunch and show our support and stand against hate and violence," Shepherd said, noting she added prayers to her service for the BerMax owners, employees and their families.
"We will do what we can to support them. I’ll be sending a congregation email to everybody related to our church, saying this has happened again, and we encourage everyone to support this place with their prayers and their patronage."
Ran Ukashi, national director of the League for Human Rights for B’nai Brith Canada, said his organization "unequivocally condemns these despicable acts of vandalism and violence and we trust the police will find the perpetrator or perpetrators of this incident and (we’re) hopeful for consequences for their actions."
"What people can do is express support to the victims of anti-Semitism or racial discrimination of any kind, because people often feel isolated and alone and that they can’t turn to anyone. But when they get an outpouring of support from the community, it helps reduce that," Ukashi said.
East said he knows BerMax owner Berent, who could not be reached for comment Friday, and he believes the business will reopen.
"If previous incidents are any indication, these are tough, strong people who believe in their mission and their right to co-exist in a world that’s peaceful," East said. "I don’t think these are the type of people that will back down.
"If anything, this will reaffirm their determination and it will reaffirm our community’s determination not to back down, and to stand up and say we have a right to be here, like everybody else."
Carver said the most recent WPS statistics from 2017 show there were 18 hate-related crimes in Winnipeg, with 15 including graffiti and three involving threats.
Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 204-986-6219 or call CrimeStoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).
Updated on Friday, April 19, 2019 at 9:19 PM CDT: updates
April 20, 2019 at 10:06 AM: Final