Emotions ran high on both sides as two men accused of burning a cross on an interracial couple’s lawn were denied bail yesterday.
Police arrested brothers Justin Rehberg, 19, and Nathan Rehberg, 20, earlier in the day. The Avondale, Hants Co., natives are second cousins of one of the victims, Michelle Lyon.
Lyon, who is white, and her fiancé, Shayne Howe, who is black, discovered a two-metre-high cross burning on their yard early Sunday.
Lyon said she didn’t know the accused personally. “It’s appalling to think someone from our family of that name could disgrace such a good name,” she told reporters.
“For two people to think so backwards and destroy that reputation is very hurtful.”
The Rehbergs are charged with mischief, uttering threats and public incitement of hatred. During a bail hearing in Kentville court yesterday the thin, short-haired brothers looked visibly distressed. In particular Nathan at times shook back and forth and quietly cried.
Their defence lawyer argued the hate crime charge was excessive and unjustified. Sitting in the stands, Howe couldn’t contain himself and yelled out in opposition. He then left the courtroom to cool down.
“I shouldn’t have to dwell on what it means or what it is. It speaks for itself,” he said later.
“I walked out because I was getting frustrated and I didn’t want to do something foolish.”
The Rehbergs were eventually denied release on bail to their mother’s house, which is about two kilometres from Howe and Lyon’s home near Newport, Hants Co.
The judge ruled the proposed bail amount insufficient, but the brothers have until a court appearance Monday morning to raise more money.
Outside the courtroom, defence lawyer Brian Vardigans said the hate crime charge is “overblown.” He said he could only find three cases across Canada of such convictions and all involved organized dissemination of hate in a public place.
“It’s got some of the hallmarks of being hateful and it’s certainly got a racist overtone,” he said. “But there’s a huge different between that and combining those factors into section 319 (inciting hatred).”
Accused’s estranged father at a loss
The father of the two accused of burning a cross on a family’s front lawn early Sunday morning in Newport, Hants Co., is at a loss to the charges facing them.
“I don’t know what to think anymore,” Granville Rehberg, a Halifax resident, told Metro last night.
“I haven’t talked to my kids. I’ve been trying to get a hold of their mother (all day) and she’s not at home,” he added.
Rehberg said 20-year-old Nathan Rehberg and 19-year-old Justin Rehberg grew up with their mother and stepfather in Avondale. He said his sons visit him periodically.
Rehberg said he hadn’t heard about the incident, and was first notified when contacted by media yesterday. He said if found guilty of the charges facing them, he would expect his two sons to explain themselves to the black community.
“I apologize,” said a distraught Rehberg, who proclaimed he wasn’t a racist.
“I’ve got nieces that have black children. I have cousins that are black. I have a lot of friends in the community of Hants County that are black.”
Rehberg said he has already received a “hate message” over the phone, with the person blaming the incident on their upbringing. “I never brought them up,” he said. “I’ve been separated now for over 16 years from them.”
– Alex Boutilier for metro halifax