In early April, a mother was driving her child to her daycare at the Jewish Community Center in Victoria when she noticed fresh graffiti on a building sign. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors who fled a Nazi concentration camp in Poland, anti-Semitic messages “killed Jews” and “gas Jews” hit her hard.
On Thursday, the perpetrator gave a written apology to families with children in daycare, formally completing an intensive, months-long justice process.
That process, carried out under the Young Offenders Act, gave victims of this hate crime – felt by the Jewish community across the country – the opportunity to determine what compensation should look like.
It also gave a vulnerable teenager a chance to change for the better.
The Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning is located next to Topaz Park, a large, urban amusement park where daycare kids can explore and play. At night, the park attracts a different crowd.
On the night of April 5, a group of teenagers were walking in the park. “We were just joking, and the jokes went on,” recalled the young man who had admitted to committing the crime. The 15-year-old agreed to speak as part of her commitment to atone for her act. Under the Young Offenders Act, he cannot be identified.
“One of us had an idea to write on the wall, and I did it,” she said in a recent interview. She took out a purple eye shadow from her bag and used her finger to paint over the messages.
Robert Rams, whose wife, Courtney Peck, was the first to see the graffiti the next morning, struggles with the idea that it could be passed off as humor. “When we read something like ‘Kill the Jews,’ it’s clearly a Nazi reference, and it’s horrible. We thought our daughter was in bad shape.” He called Rabbi Mir Kaplan, the head of the Chabad center, to find out if he was well.
Rabbi Kaplan said, “We were all shocked, upset, and somewhat frightened.” He describes it as the worst example of anti-Semitism he has experienced in Victoria, and that followed discussions about increasing security at the center, which were educational, religious and social for the Jewish community of Vancouver Island. Hosts Services.
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The young man was stunned that his impulsive act had sparked a firestorm.
“I was panicking, and for a few days, I didn’t know what to do.” A friend advised her to turn herself in, and she agreed: she wanted to explain herself, and try to fix her mistake. “I don’t want people to think I’m some neo-Nazi, because I’m not really a racist person – I’ve always stood up for equality, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+, all that.”
He had to bring his mother to talk to the police. Her mother was devastated, not understanding how her daughter could do such a terrible thing.
Rabbi Kaplan was also surprised at the criminal’s profile. The relief was that it was not a targeted act by people motivated by hatred, but the idea that it was just a slapstick joke was also disturbing. “How is it possible that a girl who grew up in Victoria would have such disgusting thoughts about the Jewish people?”
The case could have ended in the criminal justice system, but Young agreed to participate in an alternative justice process, one that would demand a deeper degree of accountability from the young teen, but also provide him with counseling and support that would allow him . To come out strong.
Gillian Lindquist, executive director of Restorative Justice Victoria, met with the youth at the request of the police. Not all cases can be resolved through this alternative system, and both victims and perpetrators have to be prepared to engage in intense dialogue. What he saw at this youth was promising.
“She was silent. She was remorseful. I realized that she was speaking the truth to me. And that there were a lot of things going on in this person’s life — it was really clear that she needed support, and She knew it too.”
Ms Lindquist said, the restorative justice process is designed to give victims a voice about how compensation is done, and the perpetrator should take responsibility for their actions. But he believes this should put the criminal on a better path, especially young people.
“A punitive model can turn a young man off. Our job is to do the opposite. Our job is to wake them up.”
At the heart of the restorative justice process is a dialogue between the victim and the perpetrator. It took three months to set the stage for that single, conclusive meeting. Young needed to find out what inspired his act, and he needed to understand the loss before he could speak to the victims of his crime.
In late July there was a meeting between the young offender and three representatives of Victoria’s Jewish community. Jewish law set clear directions for how people should address the mistakes they made, and those rules provided a framework. Rabbi Kaplan said, “He acknowledged what he had done, realized the harm it had caused, and took responsibility for the action.” “And I think now, she is trying to repair the damage. I hope it was a learning experience for her that will eventually lead to a life of greater understanding, respect and tolerance.”
He learned something in the process – about the need to build bridges for Victorian youth, so that they could identify with the Jewish community as their neighbours. “It was a wake-up call for us, that this kind of feeling was in the community. There is work to be done.”
Nico Slobinsky, director of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Vancouver, said such hate crimes are far from uncommon. “The Jewish community in Canada is the most highly targeted religious group for hate crimes reported by the police,” he said, an average of five a week. The incident resonated deeply with the Jewish community in Canada: “The fact that racist slurs would be portrayed on a Jewish community institution is a matter of great concern.”
But he said youth deserve recognition for their efforts to make amends, by participating in a restorative justice process.
“As a community we applaud this young lady for coming forward to recognize her impact on the community,” she said. It was a very difficult situation, but he made a real effort to make meaningful amendments, Mr. Slobinsky said. “It’s something we welcome.”
Those who have worked with this young man over the past five months see a change – a more articulate, aware and informed young woman who is ready to take on her commitment to become a true advocate for diversity and tolerance.
As far as the youth are concerned, he said that the restorative justice process helped him overcome many of his insecurities. She said she is confident she can now recognize the hate and overcome it: “I feel better now. It’s like a huge load being lifted off my shoulders.”
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