The front doors to Ottawa’s Congregation Machzikei Hadas on Nov. 17. (photo from Machzikei Hadas via CJN)
An Ottawa teen who vandalized several Jewish buildings last autumn, and who professed pro-Nazi sympathies, was sentenced in August to a year in custody, including time served.
The teenage male, who cannot be named because he was arrested as a minor, has been in custody for nine months, meaning he will serve another three months at Ottawa’s William E. Hay Centre, a youth detention facility. At his sentencing on Aug. 31, he also received two years probation, with several restrictions.
As part of his probation, the youth was ordered to write three 500-word essays, one each on a notable Jewish Canadian, a Muslim Canadian and a black Canadian. He also faces a curfew, restrictions on internet use and was ordered to stay away from the buildings he vandalized.
The teen had pleaded 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 charges stemmed 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 out of a private residence and a building on Ottawa’s Jewish Community Campus.
The teen turned 18 soon after the offences occurred. After he pleaded guilty, the Crown prosecutor asked the judge to consider sentencing him as an adult, in order to treat his racist ideology, monitor his movements and designate him a long-term offender. But the judge, Peter Griffiths, denied that request, saying the accused has shown signs of progress that risk being undermined if he were sentenced as an adult.
“We hope the judge is correct in his assessment and that [the teen’s] progress continues, because the best outcome for our community is that he alters his worldview,” Andrea Freedman, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, told the CJN.
Freedman, who attended the court hearings, said she considered the sentence to be just. “I think the judge was fair and tried to balance the need to infer that public safety is protected and that the sentence acts as a deterrent for others, while balancing the need to rehabilitate this young man,” she said.
Freedman, along with Linda Kerzner, chair of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, and Elly Bolleggraaf, a local Holocaust survivor, submitted victim impact statements to the court, saying the attacks shocked and hurt the city’s 14,000-strong Jewish community deeply.
Freedman told the CJN, during the teen’s sentencing hearing last May, that the accused “has an extended history of racist and antisemitic views and, by all accounts, is completely unrepentant for his deeply traumatizing actions,” and that he had refused 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 at the time.
At his sentencing hearing, Dr. John Federoff, a forensic psychiatrist who examined the teen, testified that the young man likely had schizophrenia and blamed his crimes on Jews.
More recently, the teen apparently told youth workers that he’s interested in removing racist tattoos from his body, expressed an interest in mental health counseling and has shown progress in vocational training while in custody, CBC News reported.
Freedman said the teen apologized for his actions before receiving his sentence. “We’re appreciative that this individual has been held accountable for his actions,”she said. “Our primary concern is the safety of our community members.” She added she is hopeful that the progress in the offender’s behaviour noted by the judge “is genuine and continues.”
While previous attempts at outreach have not succeeded, she said, “we continue to remain willing to engage with him in a sincere manner to help him alter his worldview. And we’re hopeful that this is the type of engagement that will bring this individual to successfully change his ways.”
“One year in custody with a two-year probation is the longest sentence ever handed down a young offender for a hate crime,” said Bernie Farber, executive director of the Mosaic Institute, who testified as an expert witness at the teen’s trial. “It sends a strong message.”
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