A 15-year old boy from Oak Park High School has been arrested and police say will be charged with assault after lighting a student’s hair on fire. The victim is a 15 year old Jewish girl who attends the same school
A POLICE probe is underway into an incident at a Winnipeg high school involving a student with Nazi links who reportedly used a lighter to burn the hair of a Jewish student. The altercation in a hallway at Oak Park High School last month apparently also saw the 15-year-old boy make anti-Semitic slurs toward the 15-year-old girl.
"There was definitely some racial comments made and some physical aggression occurred," said Lawrence Lussier, superintendent of Pembina Trails School Division.
Lussier said the "ends of (the girl’s) hair were singed" by a lighter.
The school became aware of the incident when the girl told a counsellor what happened three days later, said Lussier.
A spokesman for the Winnipeg Police Service said Friday officers were in the midst of an investigation and had no comment.
Lussier said the male student involved in the incident was immediately suspended and has withdrawn from the school while the girl continues to attend the Charleswood-area high school.
"It’s pretty shocking for us that this particular event and the nature of this event happened," said Lussier.
"We are still working with the school principal on educational efforts that will promote respect and acceptance and hopefully prevent any futures action like this. This is not something that happens regularly.
"It happened and we can’t deny that, of course, but it is something that we actively work against and we will continue to make every educational effort we can to diminish or eliminate any future activity like that."
A justice source said no charges have been laid, but the Crown is also looking at what kind of charge might be most appropriate. The source told the Free Press the file is being reviewed by senior members of the Crown attorney’s office because of the rarity of the allegations. The source described the accused as having alleged Nazi and skinhead links, but said authorizing a specific hate crime charge may be difficult.
"That would likely be used as an aggravating factor at sentencing, however," the source said.
The source suggested a more likely charge would be assault with a weapon, although no decision has been made.
"I would expect it will come in the next week or so," the source said.
There is a rarely used section of the Criminal Code that pertains to hate crimes, where a person could be charged with public incitement of hatred for "communicating statements in any public place" that lead to inciting "hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace."
"This kind of case may not be a specific hate crime, per se, under the definition," the source said.
In this case, the boy is a youth, so any charge he faces would be under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Lussier said there’s been contact with the parents of the victim and the alleged attacker.
"This is an incident that happened between two students to begin with, and there’s been some interaction between students (on) social media, and the parents that need to know are the parents of the victim and the parents of the aggressor," he said.
Alan Yusim, midwest regional director for B’nai Brith Canada, said the incident "tears at the fabric of the community." He had not heard about the incident before being contacted by the Free Press.
"I think there should be zero tolerance for any hate-motivated activity in our schools," said Yusim.
"It’s unfortunate these things happen, but they’re out there, and they must be dealt with effectively because everybody’s a victim when that sort of an incident occurs."
Bullying is making national headlines after a Quebec girl recently committed suicide.