Three owners of the BerMax Caffé were arrested Wednesday and charged with public mischief, which involves intent to mislead and causing an officer to investigate an incident based on false information.
The cafe was allegedly robbed, the interior trashed and the walls spray-painted with anti-Semitic graffiti on April 18, although investigators now say that was all staged by the owners.
At the time, Winnipeg police Const. Rob Carver told media the attack was one of the “worst” hate crimes he had seen as a police officer.
Police Chief Danny Smyth said Wednesday the investigation has been a significant waste of police resources.
“Over 25 officers have invested nearly 1,000 hours through a busy holiday weekend trying to bring this investigation to a close,” he said.
“In the end, we found evidence of a crime. It just wasn’t a hate crime.”
The incident sparked a large outpouring of support from people in Winnipeg’s Jewish community and the city at large, including an interfaith prayer vigil planned by a local church for Thursday night.
“There have been some new developments in the BerMax Caffé situation,” said a spokesperson for Westworth United Church. “These are being reviewed, and an announcement on the status of the interfaith prayer vigil will follow.”
Alexander, Oxana and Maxim Berent are all facing charges and have reportedly been released on a promise to appear.
Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman spoke out against the alleged hate crime when it was first reported. He said if the charges against the owners are proven, it will represent a major breach of trust within the community, as well as a “complete waste of police resources”.
“If the charges are upheld by a court, it’s disgusting,” Bowman said.
“We are shocked and deeply disturbed by today’s news,” said the Winnipeg Jewish Federation in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“It is deplorable that anyone would make false allegations of anti-Semitism, especially claims of such a serious nature, for any kind of gain,” the organization said.
“Filing false complaints of criminal acts of anti-Semitism (is) not only illegal, they undermine the important work necessary to counter anti-Semitism and hate in all forms.”
A GoFundMe page had been set up to support the café after a previous incident last month.
Robbie Kfir Mulder-Kiesman, who set up the fundraiser, said in a statement that fundraising efforts have been suspended until more information is available.
“We are aware of the announcements made and have been taken completely off guard by the information,” said Mulder-Kiesman.
“We took on this effort with the best intentions and hope that further information comes to light that provides the much needed answers we need in this situation.”
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—With files from Hannah Owczar