Warrants have been issued for a former Winnipeg family accused of staging hate crimes at their own café who, despite an upcoming trial in Manitoba for their charges, have moved to California with no apparent plans to return anytime soon.
At a hearing in Manitoba's provincial court on Oct. 2, Associate Chief Judge Anne Krahn heard the former owners of the BerMax Caffé and Bistro, Oxana and Alexander Berent, and their son Maxim Berent, are currently living in Los Angeles.
The family grabbed international attention in April 2019 after their café was targeted with anti-Semitic vandalism and a woman working there had been allegedly assaulted – but police later said the whole incident had been staged.
“In the end, we found evidence of a crime. It just wasn’t a hate crime,” Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth previously told media, adding he was disappointed and angry that hate and racism was used in "such a disingenuous way."
The three members of the Berent family were charged with public mischief – which has not been proven in court.
The trial for the charges against them was scheduled to begin on Oct. 13, but the dates have been cancelled due to the fact that the Berents' are no longer in Canada.
“The matter is going to get adjourned in any event today - one way or another because they are not coming back at this point from L.A.,” crown attorney Dave Mann told the court on Friday.
"At that point, when they do come back, they can come back, turn themselves in and be released – unless of course obviously if there are more charges then things could change."
Mann said if the Berents do return to Canada and turn themselves in, then the trial will be reset.
Michael Lazar, the lawyer representing Oxana Berent, told CTV News the Berent family moved to California in January after losing their business and being ostracized.
Lazar said the family is now in L.A. where they are being supported by an organization in Chabad – a Jewish religious group that provides social support.
He said the Berent informed the court in January that they were leaving for L.A., and said they were not able to make it back to Canada due to the COVID-19.
Lazar said counsel presented a motion to the court that would allow the Berents to appear via videoconference, but due to the complexity of the case, the motion was denied.
He said the family has been keeping in contact with their lawyers.
"I am satisfied that there is a basis to believe - and with the agreement of counsel - that the Berents will not be returning for trial," Krahn said, issuing the warrants on Friday.
Lazar said the crown has promised not to charge the Berents on a failure to appear in court.
The trial against the Berents has already seen delays. The family first appeared in court in May 2019. In January 2020, they were looking for new lawyers due to a breakdown between the lawyers and the family.
The Crown previously said they were concerned with how long the case was taking.
Court documents also show the family may have been facing financial challenges.
Lazar said the family plans to return to Canada when they no longer have to worry about COVID-19.