by Gabrielle Giroday and Mike McIntyre, Winnipeg Free Press | NationalPost.com | December 6, 2011
WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg teen accused of a racist attack on a Jewish high school student is now stirring debate about the incident through his very public Facebook page.
Police confirmed Monday a 15-year-old boy had been charged with assault with a weapon for allegedly using a lighter to burn the hair of a Jewish classmate while uttering anti-Semitic remarks in the halls of Oak Park High School.
But while police said it was still being determined whether the boy will be charged with hate crimes, the boy had a message of his own — a picture of himself on his Facebook page wearing a shirt with a slogan relating that he loves “haters.”
And he’s being lauded by others online for the alleged attack.
The incident happened after school on Nov. 18 in the hallways of the school.
Police were contacted a week later and launched an investigation, which led to a charge against the boy Friday. The teen was released on a promise to appear.
The girl was not physically hurt in the attack and has since returned to school.
One of the boy’s friends, a young woman, posted her support for him on his Facebook page.
“What you did should have been applauded. But s-happens,” she wrote, drawing an immediate response from some of his other Facebook friends.
While two people supported her views, two others responded negatively. One called the boy a “skinhead,” while another insisted what he did should “not be applauded.”
The teen’s Facebook page is also filled with other vulgarities, including repeated use of a derogatory term for homosexuals.
The boy has since withdrawn from Oak Park, said Lawrence Lussier, Pembina Trails School Division superintendent.
Lussier said a second student has been suspended indefinitely while the police investigation continues. It’s alleged the second boy was present when the girl’s hair was scorched, although Lussier said the boy’s part in what happened is “not clear.”
“I’m hearing that the police investigation may turn up another person who was involved but that has not been declared as yet,” he said.
Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Rob Carver said officers are aware of a second individual associated with the incident, but no charges are pending.
School officials have since disciplined that boy and a third 15-year-old boy for “one comment each on social media” after the Nov. 18 incident, said Lussier. The comments were “related to anti-Semitism,” he said.
“We can’t claim to police the Internet really. Whatever we can intervene in . . . are things that kids report to us normally, that are affecting the learning environment. Kids come to school scared or they’re bothered by what someone said to them, or generally on some site,” said Lussier.
Carver noted the age of the accused is “particularly unusual” and called the allegations around the case “disturbing.”
“I have been doing policing for upwards of a couple of decades and don’t think I’ve ever seen an incident like this,” said Carver. “This is very young to be holding such … hardened, racist views, and have a lot of violence associated with it.”
As of Monday, police had not laid any charges related to hate crimes, but that could still occur.
“Certainly, when you read this, you wonder about potential hate-crime charges,” said Carver. “The case has been forwarded on to the Department of Justice … and they’ll be looking into that.”
David Matas, a prominent Winnipeg lawyer who is senior honorary counsel for B’nai Brith, said the case shows the “durability of anti-Semitism.”
“The fact that it should arise in somebody so young shows that it’s going to be projected into the future,” said Matas. “It just seems never to end.”