The first day of trial for an alleged racist incident against a Chinese barista at Steveston’s Rocanini Coffee Roasters concluded with the prosecution’s first witness examination.
Astrid Maria Secreve, 76, and Michel Jean-Jacque Berthiaume, 74, had both pleaded not guilty to one count each of mischief of $5,000 or under.
Secreve and Berthiaume had requested that the court appoint them a lawyer and adjourn the trial, explaining that they are seniors and could not afford to hire legal representation.
Berthiaume said they “have no choice” but to be self-represented and that they were “unfamiliar” with court proceedings. “We’re the victims here,” he added.
When Richmond provincial court Judge Diana Vandor asked the parties if they considered the charges to be simple or complex, Berthiaume acknowledged that they were simple.
He also added that “part of the Chinese community” had brought the case to the attention of the media, and there was “pressure from the Chinese community.”
“What you’re telling me right now is not relevant to the issue I need to decide,” said Vandor.
Vandor ultimately rejected the couple’s applications after considering submissions from both sides.
“Not having legal representation cannot be a reason to delay a trial forever,” she said. She also noted that adjourning the trial would not change the couple’s position as they cannot afford to hire legal representation and she cannot appoint counsel for them.
“A racial and hate-motivated incident”
The trial resumed in the afternoon with crown counsel Darren Tam’s opening statement, which referred to the incident at Rocanini Coffee Roasters as “racial and hate-motivated.”
Tam called his first witness, Nikki Tan, who was the manager of Rocanini’s Steveston location and the victim of the alleged incident.
When asked how she felt about testifying, Tan said she felt “a little bit nervous” and that she still wanted to cry because the experience was “traumatizing.”
Tan told the court that Secreve and Berthiaume had ordered two extra hot mochas at Rocanini’s on March 29, 2021 and sat inside the coffee shop despite being told there was no capacity and that they had to follow COVID-19 protocols.
Tan said the couple ignored her when she suggested they move to another table, and when she tried to ask them again to move, Berthiaume stood up and poured coffee on the floor.
She said that Secreve then followed suit and said in an “angry” and loud” tone, “F*** you Chinese.” Secreve then allegedly threw the coffee cup at Tan, which hit her on the side of her head. A bit of coffee leftover in the cup also splashed Tan in the face and on her hoodie, said Tan.
“I was shocked,” she said. “This was my first time to meet people like that.”
Tan also told the court that she threw the towel in her hand because she was “angry” about Secreve’s comments. Although she didn’t remember the towel hitting Secreve, she said she realized it did when she watched the security footage.
The court was shown the security footage, which did not have audio, as well as an iPhone video that Tan recorded when the couple left the coffee shop.
Berthiaume was recorded telling Tan to “let it go” because Secreve wasn’t “well.” The video then showed him saying “f***ing Chinese” at least twice and the phrase “Coronavirus is you.”
After the altercation, Tan said she called the police, who chased down the couple and brought them back to the coffee shop. She also said that she closed the shop earlier than usual.
“I could not hold up my emotions,” said Tan. “I cried at the back for a long time.”
Tan told the court she felt “very insecure” and “very uncomfortable” going to work after the incident. She quit her job in July 2021 because she was “not comfortable” working there anymore.
Along with community members, city councillor Chak Au was spotted in the courtroom listening to the trial. MP Parm Bains had also sat in on the trial during the morning session and posed for photos with protesters.
“I’d like to see that the accused will have a fair trial… And, hopefully, this final outcome will do justice to what has happened,” said Au.
The trial is scheduled to resume tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. with Secreve and Berthiaume’s cross-examination of Tan. Crown is expected to call five more witnesses, including another Rocanini employee and four police officers.