A Richmond man and woman were each sentenced to one-year of probation, which carries with it a criminal record, for their part in a racist incident at Steveston’s Rocanini Coffee Roasters last year.
While the judge said it’s not a hate crime to hurl racist insults, the couple, Michel Jean-Jacque Berthiaume and Astrid Maria Secreve, went too far when they poured coffee on the floor and threw a cup.
Berthiaume and Secreve, who represented themselves in court, had originally pleaded not guilty to a charge of mischief, but changed their minds last month during the trial.
Berthiaume and Secreve were charged with mischief for pouring coffee, throwing a coffee cup and making racist remarks such as "F***ing Chinese."
Richmond Provincial Court Judge Diana Vandor agreed with the couple that their actions were not a hate crime, as based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “Canadians have the freedom to hate and feel bias or prejudice against others without fear of criminalization.”
“They’re free to throw insults that are motivated by hate, bias or prejudice,” she said.
But by pouring coffee on the floor, the couple had gone “too far.”
The couple’s actions of pouring coffee on the ground and throwing the cup, said Vandor, were at least partially "motivated by bias, prejudice or hate" against the Chinese community.
A 34-page decision was read out at the couple’s sentencing on Thursday afternoon.
Vandor rejected Berthiaume’s arguments that he was attempting to diffuse the situation by pouring coffee on the floor and he was motivated by COVID-19, as pouring coffee on the floor was an “intended insult” and Berthiaume chose to insult the barista Nikki Tan based on her race or ethnicity rather than other insults.
The couple’s “gratuitous anti-Chinese comments” were “humiliating and denigrating” towards Tan, who was just doing her job, and they chose to identify her by irrelevant characteristics rather than criticizing her work performance.
Berthiaume’s “coronavirus is you” comment went “one step further,” said Vandor, as he had associated Tan with the COVID-19 virus and it was “a message of vilification.”
The couple’s actions were “disproportionate” against protocols aimed to keep them safe, and they could have gone to another café if they didn’t want to follow the rules at Rocanini, Vandor added.
The racial motivation, along with the fact that the couple committed “brazen and disrespectful” acts of mischief in response to COVID-19 protocols and the adverse impact on Tan, said Vandor, were aggravating factors in her decision.
Mitigating factors included their clean criminal record and the fact that they pleaded guilty before more resources were spent on the trial.
Vandor gave Berthiaume and Secreve a suspended sentence for 12 months, saying it would be against public interest to discharge them without a criminal record. The main objectives of the sentence are deterrence and denunciation.
Crown’s proposed conditions such as counselling and community service were rejected. Although Vandor said she believed seniors can be rehabilitated, it is less important in this case as Berthiaume and Secreve don’t feel remorse “despite having one and a half years to reflect” on their actions.
Conditions of the sentence include not going to Rocanini Coffee Roasters, having no contact with Tan and fellow barista Raymond Chan and not visiting Tan and Chan's schools or places of worship. The couple was also ordered to each pay a $100 victim fine surcharge.
Crown prosecutor Darren Tam said the Court “displayed great patience and valiant effort given the difficult trial.”
However, he found it difficult to reconcile Berthiaume and Secreve’s “complete lack of remorse and unwillingness to accept the responsibility” with Vandor’s decision that counselling for Berthiaume and Secreve, community service and a court-mandated apology were “not appropriate” for the couple, especially given the court’s own “strong comments about the degrading and dehumanizing nature” of their actions.
Brea Huang-Sami, a Richmondite present in the courtroom, said she hopes this case would serve as a starting point for the community to build “a diverse and inclusive community that is good for everyone.”
“Before putting any hate-related or hate-motivated speech or thoughts (out there)… we really need to be responsible in our community. And it is a collective effort for everyone to get involved in (building) mutual respect, mutual understanding, and learning from each other.”