Ottawa’s Jewish community is closely monitoring the sentencing hearing of a local teenager charged with defacing several Jewish buildings last November.
The teenage male, who cannot be named because he was arrested as a minor, has plead guilty to five charges, including inciting hatred, mischief against religious buildings, threatening conduct, possession of weapons and breaching bail conditions from an assault conviction in 2015.
The latest charges stem from a spate of incidents between Nov. 13 and 19, 2016, when spray-painted swastikas, white nationalist symbols and racial slurs were daubed on two area synagogues, a Jewish prayer house, a Jewish communal building, a mosque and a United Church that has a black minister.
The Jewish targets were Congregation Machzikei Hadas, Kehillat Beth Israel synagogue, a Jewish prayer centre called the Glebe Minyan that is run from a private residence and the Michael and Gertrude Addleman building, located on the Jewish Community Campus.
Affected parties have submitted victim impact statements to the court, with one coming from a Holocaust survivor. The CJN was unable to obtain one that was filed jointly by the synagogues.
In her statement, Linda Kerzner, chair of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, wrote that last November, she was helping lead a group of 36 local women on a trip to Israel.
When she read news of the attack at the Glebe Minyan, “the fear, shock and tears were heartbreaking. Here (the women) were so far from home, missing their loved ones, yet immersed in this wonderful experience, when the news shook them back to the reality that only for the fact that we are Jews, we are targets of hate.
“Many of the women had family murdered in the Holocaust, including me. This brought it all too close to home,” Kerzner stated.
Andrea Freedman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, stated to the court that during the week of the attacks, “I was working non-stop on security and communicating with a traumatized and vulnerable community.”
It was a “stressful, emotional and scarring time for the Jewish community and the city,” Freedman stated. “Learning that someone who never met you hates you so much as to risk jail is frightening. The fact that he was caught with weapons makes it even more so.”
In her statement to the court, Elly Bolleggraaf recalled her family’s painful war-era memories of her native Holland, when it was occupied by the Nazis. “It seemed incomprehensible,” she said, “that such events could occur in our freedom-loving Canada, the land of opportunity, and equality and respect for all.
“No one has the right to hate others for unfounded reasons, to act out this hate, and, to instill fears in others.”
She said she hopes the accused receives “the necessary guidance.”
But that seems remote: the sentencing hearing heard that the teenager continues to harbour racist ideas and has refused treatment.
Dr. John Federoff, a forensic psychiatrist who examined the teen, testified that the young man likely has schizophrenia and blamed his crimes on Jews, Postmedia reported from the hearing.
Federoff said the teen has described himself as a skinhead and a “nice guy” who is not violent.
“He clearly hasn’t learned his lessons and still (believes in) a conspiracy against white people. I don’t really think he’s changed that much and still has paranoid beliefs about the world,” Fedoroff told court on May 23.
The doctor said that if left untreated, the teen’s condition could become “very dangerous.”
The accused is a member of an online “white power” group, the court heard. His Facebook page was filled with Nazi slogans and threats of violence against Jews, Muslims and non-whites.
A youth worker testified that while in custody, the teen lost his computer privileges for awhile, after drawing a swastika on a page he was building.
The teen has described himself as a skinhead and a ‘nice guy’
In another report, a youth worker cited his comment that “the only way to get rid of them (Jews) is to burn them.”
His youth workers and his probation officer testified that the accused continued to express racist sentiments, but that he has received little treatment, the CBC reported.
In an email to The CJN, Freedman said the accused “has an extended history of racist and anti-Semitic views, and by all accounts is completely unrepentant for his deeply traumatizing actions” and refuses to accept treatment.
“Accordingly, we feel we have no choice but to ask the court to consider a lengthy sentence and an extended probationary period, as well as a restraining order barring him from proximity to Jewish institutions,” Freedman said.
She said members of the targeted communities have expressed willingness to engage the teen, “to try and alter his worldview, but with no success to date.
“We remain open to this approach, and regret the fact that the offender has been unwilling to respond positively. We hope his position changes as this would be in his best interest as well as the safest course of action for the affected communities.”
The attacks, however, generated some “positive” outcomes, Reuven Bulka, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, told The CJN.
He said a local organization cleaned some of the graffiti from walls – “a truly wonderful gesture.”
The attacks “brought (the community) together, and continues to do so, in terms of doing things together. The latest was a very successful multi-faith food drive.”
Also giving expert testimony at the hearing was Bernie Farber, executive director of the Mosaic Institute, who testified about hateful symbols and their impact on communities.
The sentencing hearing resumes June 13 and 21.