The Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced on February 24 that it had charged two men with public incitement of hatred, mischief, and uttering threats.
The charges were laid after an incident in the early hours of February 21, when Shayne Howe, who is black, found a two-meter-high cross burning in front of his home in Poplar Grove, Nova Scotia in eastern Canada. Howe heard a man yell, “Die, nigger, die,” before he ran off.
Howe is black; his wife, Michelle Lyon, is white. She is a distant relative of the two accused men, Nathan Neil Rehberg, aged 20, and his brother Justin Chad Rehberg, who is 19.
They were reportedly arrested after public tip-offs poured into the police.
Burning crosses were one of the hallmarks of the Ku Klux Klan, an American white supremacist group. They were used in the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries to intimidate African-Americans and other minority groups, sometimes Jews.
The Canadian Jewish Congress and the Atlantic Jewish Council commended the Canadian police for including public incitement of hatred among the charges.
“Cross-burnings are the quintessential symbols of incitement to hate,” said CJC President Mark J. Freiman. “It is hate that is aimed at both the immediate target victims and the broader community they represent. It is entirely appropriate for police authorities to lay charges under the hate-crimes provisions of the (Canadian) criminal code in cases like this.”
AJC Executive Director Jon Goldberg added, “It was most encouraging to witness the outpouring of support for the targeted couple, and the loud chorus of condemnation from Nova Scotians and many other Canadians against this heinous incident. The message that this is totally unacceptable rang out loud and clear.”