A couple involved in a racist incident at a Steveston coffee shop has pleaded guilty.
However, Michel Jean-Jacque (Eric) Berthiaume and Astrid Maria Secreve – who have been defending themselves against mischief charges – won’t be sentenced until a later date.
At Richmond Provincial Court on Oct. 11, the pair admitted their part in an incident at Steveston's Rocanini Coffee Roasters in 2021, when a cup of coffee was poured on the floor, a cup was thrown at a barista, and “f*** you Chinese” was uttered.
After their guilty plea, crown counsel asked the judge for a suspended sentence with 18 months’ probation including 100 hours of community service.
The court was told by crown counsel how Berthiaume, 74, showed no remorse and that Secreve, 76, had downplayed the impact of the incident on the barista.
When Richmond Provincial court Judge Diana Vandor asked if Secreve received a copy of the Crown’s cases and barista Nikki Tan’s victim impact statement, Crown counsel Darren Tam said Secreve had thrown her copy at staff at the Crown’s office.
When Secreve was provided with another copy of the victim impact statement during the sentencing hearing, she returned it to Tam, saying it was, “All B.S.”
The court was also told the pair were not of good character, with reference made to a police file with previous alleged racist incidents.
Berthiaume, meanwhile, told the judge that both he and Secreve should be absolutely discharged with no conditions.
No point in getting counselling
He said that there’s no point in the pair getting any counselling at their age because they’re not going to change and that he wouldn’t be prepared to do 100 hours of community service.
They are both objecting to receiving any kind of community service, with Secreve saying she doesn’t have time due to charity work commitments and her poor health.
Berthiaume claimed he was remorseful and that, despite pleading guilty, he suggested the victim is resilient, calling her "a liar" who staged the whole incident.
He added that he and Secreve are suffering from the after-effects of COVID and have to deal with brain fog.
“I wished it never happened. We’re seniors, we’re no thugs,” he added.
He said the couple now doesn’t go out for a meal or even for coffee because of the incident.
Choking up, he said they have grandchildren in Holland and how he can’t believe how much negative publicity the pair has received.
Berthiaume said he felt the couple had been scapegoated by the Chinese community and that he wants to return to Quebec.
Secreve, on the other hand, told the Court she preferred people to be polite regardless of their race, but she has found “the Chinese community in Richmond very challenging.” She added that she, too, wanted to “get out of this province.”
Health was "more important," said accused
On Tuesday morning, Secreve told the Court that she would like to plead guilty, and Berthiaume followed suit.
“The reason I’m pleading guilty this morning is we want this nightmare to be over,” said Berthiaume, and said his health was “more important.”
Prior to the couple’s decision to change their pleas, Berthiaume informed the court of his concerns about the couple’s safety, unfair media coverage, and political pressure.
According to Berthiaume, Secreve was assaulted the day after the September trial by a “Chinese fellow” who threw “a rock” at her, he also claimed the News’ coverage had "distorted the facts" by not saying the trial was for mischief charges.
He added that there was pressure on the trial from the "Chinese community."
The sentencing hearing is adjourned until tomorrow to consider community impact statements, and the couple will be sentenced at a later date.
*Previous story from Sept. 22 below*
Astrid Maria Secreve and Michel Jean-Jacque Berthiaume appeared in person at Richmond Provincial Court to represent themselves in the trial after an incident at Rocanini Coffee Roasters 18 months ago.
The couple is facing mischief charges for allegedly pouring coffee on the floor, making racist comments and throwing a cup at a Chinese barista. Both pleaded not guilty.
More than a dozen protesters were outside the courthouse over the two days the trial was in court, holding signs that said, “End racism” and “Hate is a virus.”
Ally Wang, spokesperson for the Stop Anti-Asian Hate Crimes advocacy group, said a conclusion is needed for the sake of justice, adding that the case is significant because not a lot of anti-Asian incidents are tried in court.
MP Parm Bains and city councillor Chak Au were in the courtroom on the first day.
Crown counsel Darren Tam kicked off the trial by telling the court the incident was “racial and hate-motivated.”
The court heard from Crown’s first witness, Nikki Tan, the manager of the cafe and the victim of the alleged incident.
Tan told the court that Secreve and Berthiaume had ordered two extra hot mochas 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 asked them again 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, with some coffee splashing Tan in the face and on her hoodie.
“I was shocked,” she said. “This was my first time to meet people like that.”
Tan also acknowledged that she had thrown a towel she was holding because she was “angry.” Although she said she didn’t realize the towel hit Secreve until she watched the security footage.
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.
Finally, Tan told the court the experience was “traumatizing” and that she quit her job in July 2021 because she was “not comfortable” working there anymore.
Barista ‘lied a fair amount,’ accused suggests
During the second day of trial, the couple cross-examined Tan, challenging some of her statements. Berthiaume said the police had not brought them back to the coffee shop. Rather, they had returned on their own to fetch Secreve’s purse.
Secreve and Berthiaume conducted Tan’s cross-examination themselves because their legal aid was used up by the time they got to court, and they could not afford lawyers. They had initially requested that the court appoint them a lawyer and adjourn the trial. However, the judge refused.
“Not having legal representation cannot be a reason to delay a trial forever,” said Richmond provincial court Judge Diana Vandor. She also noted that adjourning the trial would not change the couple’s situation because she didn’t have jurisdiction to appoint them a lawyer anyway.
In further cross-examination, Berthiaume challenged Tan’s claim that coffee had splashed her in the face by showing her a police photo and asking her whether it showed any coffee on her face.
When Tan pointed out that there were droplets on her nose, Secreve interjected, “Bad skin.”
Berthiaume also asked Tan if she thought the couple’s actions were “racially motivated, coronavirus motivated, or better yet, coronavirus-related.”
Tan said she thought it was racially motivated.
Berthiaume claimed Tan lied “a fair amount,” noting that the store hours were not 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. as Tan had testified on Thursday afternoon, but 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. instead. He also said the couple had gone back to the coffee shop on their own and they weren’t brought back by the police.
He then suggested that Tan “didn’t even know” what he was saying due to her “poor English,” but Vandor stopped him from asking Tan to respond to that statement.
Turning to the events outside the coffee shop, where Tan had filmed the couple as they got into their car, Berthiaume said that Tan “didn’t seem to have much empathy” as she would not “let it go.”
“We’re the victims here,” he added at one point.
The trial has been adjourned for the time being and the parties met on Sept. 20 to schedule three more days to continue proceedings.
Secreve and Berthiaume are set to cross-examine Wei (Raymond) Chan, who also worked at Rocanini on the day of the incident.