Winnipeggers expressed shock and outrage after the Jewish-owned BerMax Caffé & Bistro was allegedly broken into, robbed and vandalized, and a female employee was purportedly assaulted on April 18. But in a shocking turn of events on April 24, Winnipeg police announced that the store’s owners had been charged with public mischief for allegedly staging the attack.
BerMax employees reported the initial incident as a robbery and police said they found the place trashed and that one woman had been sent to hospital. At the time, Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Rob Carver said police were “investigating this as a hate crime,” because anti-Semitic graffiti had been left behind, and the café had been the subject of previous anti-Semitic vandalism.
But on April 24, the store’s three owners were charged, including the one who had been sent to the hospital.
“Investigators believe that the initial report of a robbery was staged. Further, the anti-Semitic graffiti and vandalism were also falsely reported as being done by outside suspects,” the Winnipeg Police Service wrote on Facebook.
Police Chief Danny Smyth said he was “hugely disappointed and, frankly, angry that this family has used hate and racism in such a disingenuous way.…
“In doing so, they have allowed cynicism to creep into this discussion. Cynicism that trivializes genuine victims of hate. Cynicism that risks reinforcing stereotypes that the Jewish community here locally, and throughout the world, have fought hard to dispel.”
In a Facebook post, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg said that it is “shocked and deeply disturbed by today’s news. It is deplorable that anyone would make false allegations of anti-Semitism, especially claims of such a serious nature, for any kind of gain.
“Filing false complaints of criminal acts of anti-Semitism are not only illegal, they undermine the important work necessary to counter anti-Semitism and hate in all forms.”
The restaurant was founded in 2015 by the Berent family – Jewish-Ukrainian immigrants who came to Canada in 2005 by way of Israel – and was operated by Oxana Berent and her son, Maxim.
BerMax has been subjected to numerous alleged anti-Semitic attacks in the recent past. The restaurant was pelted with eggs last year and, more recently, both in late January and early February, the word “Jew” was painted in its door and window, as well as on a nearby fence.
According to a report in the Winnipeg Sun, Chief Smyth now admits it’s possible that those attacks were staged, as well.
BerMax had been operating as a kosher restaurant until last fall, when the family chose to drop its kosher certification, citing higher costs and losing business due to being closed on Shabbat.
Alexander, Oxana and Maxim Berent were all charged with public mischief and released on the condition that they appear in court sometime next month.