Last week, a restaurant in the Canadian city of Winnipeg was allegedly defaced by racist graffiti and swastikas. News outlets described it as one of the "most brazen" attacks on the Jewish community in recent memory. A prayer vigil was planned for today.
That event has been cancelled amidst revelations that the Winnipeg police now believe the hate crime was a hoax staged by the Jewish owners of the BerMax Caffe. All three were arrested and charged with "public mischief," which is the Canadian equivalent of misleading police investigators.
Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth said Wednesday the attack was staged.
"The anti-Semitic graffiti and vandalism were also falsely reported as being done by outside suspects," Smyth said.
"We found evidence of a crime. It just wasn't a hate crime," said Smyth, adding the police expended considerable resources investigating and took the report seriously.
Smyth said he is disappointed by the alleged staging and fears it will promote cynicism. The incident took place the night before the start of Passover, a significant Jewish holiday.
Alexander Berent, 56, Oxana Berent, 48, and Maxim Berent, 29, have all been charged with public mischief and were released after being arrested, police say. They are slated to appear in court in May.
Oxana Berent said she would never invent a story about an anti-Semitic crime, given her family's experiences.
"My grandmother's family, they died in the Holocaust. Just her and her little brother survived, the whole family. We don't joke about that," she said, through tears.
The Berents deserve every opportunity to prove their innocence, and should be treated as such unless the authorities make a compelling case. But this development serves as yet another reminder for the public to take hate crime news with a grain of salt.