Owners of a café in the 1800 block of Corydon Avenue have been charged after police allege they falsely reported being victims of a robbery and anti-Semitic graffiti.

Alexander Berent, 56, Oxana Berent, 48, and Maxim Berent, 29, owners of BerMax Caffé and Bistro, are charged with public mischief in connection with an incident on April 18 that was initially investigated as a hate crime and commercial robbery.

“In the end, we found evidence of a crime. It just wasn’t a hate crime,” said Danny Smyth, chief of the Winnipeg Police Service at a police news conference on Wednesday, where police alleged the robbery that was reported was staged, and said anti-Semitic graffiti and vandalism “were also falsely reported as being done by outside suspects.”

Police had previously said the café had experienced four instances of vandalism in the past five months. Smyth could not say if the suspects were also responsible for those instances, but did not rule out the possibility and said those incidents would likely be investigated. 

He also said the woman who had reported being assaulted as part of the incident April 18 was one of the suspects arrested. 

“I don’t believe the injuries were significant and it forms part of the investigation,” said Smyth. 

He also spoke out against a recent increase in hate-related crimes, referencing the attack that targeted a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the mosque attacks in Quebec and New Zealand, and bombings targeting Christians in Sri Lanka.

“I speak often of the importance of denouncing these horrible and cowardly acts and calling out the people who are involved in them,” said Smyth, saying police resources shouldn’t be spared for the investigation of hate crimes. He said in this case, more than 25 officers spent 1000 hours investigating, much of which was over a long weekend. 

“I am hugely disappointed and frankly angry that this family has used hate and racism in such a disingenuous way. In doing so, they have allowed cynicism to creep into this discussion, cynicism that trivializes genuine victims of hate, cynicism that risks reinforcing stereotypes that the Jewish community here locally and throughout the world have fought hard to dispel,” said Smyth.

The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg released a statement to media saying it was grateful to the effort police put into investigating the incident, and it was shocked and deeply disturbed by the arrests.

“It is deplorable that anyone would make false allegations of antisemitism, especially claims of such a serious nature, for any kind of gain,” the statement said, adding that false complaints of criminal acts of anti-Semitism undermine work to fight hate.