Skip to main content

One of two brothers accused of burning a cross on the front lawn of an interracial couple in rural Nova Scotia pleaded not guilty Monday to a hate crime and other charges.

Justin Rehberg, 19, will go to trial Oct. 18 in provincial court in Windsor.

The case against his brother, Nathan Rehberg, 20, was also in court but he didn't enter a plea. He returns to court May 18.

Neither one of the brothers appeared in court Monday.

The young men from Avondale face charges of public incitement of hatred, criminal harassment, uttering threats and mischief.

Police laid charges in February soon after a cross was burned in an early morning incident outside the home of Michelle Lyon and Shayne Howe in Poplar Grove, about 50 kilometres northwest of Halifax.

Crown prosecutor Darrell Carmichael told Judge Claudine MacDonald that he had to speak to Justin Rehberg's lawyer, Christopher Manning, about a possible agreed statement of facts before Nathan Rehberg's case can move forward.

Outside the courthouse, Mr. Carmichael said an issue could be arguments surrounding application of the hate crime law.

"There's not a lot of law on that in Canada," he said. "It's a rare thing to be prosecuted for a hate crime."

There have been only two other such charges in the last 10 years in Nova Scotia, with one case being dismissed and the accused in the other case being found not criminally responsible.

Mr. Howe, who is black, and Ms. Lyon, who is white, told reporters they were getting frustrated with court delays.

"I don't feel like anything is getting done," said Mr. Howe. "It just keeps getting put over. ... We're tired. ... We want to see justice served."

Earlier, Ms. Lyon said the fear she experienced returned on the weekend when she learned her compact car had been gutted by fire while it was parked at a neighbouring property.

"I'm angry, very angry," Ms. Lyon said outside the courthouse. "The fear factor has gone back up, to say the least."

Police confirmed the car was torched early Saturday. A spokeswoman said the investigation is in its early stages and police couldn't confirm a link to the hate crimes case.

The Rehbergs were earlier released on $5,000 bail and ordered to stay with their grandparents.

Mr. Howe and Ms. Lyon have said they awoke early in the pre-dawn darkness of Feb. 21 to find a two-metre cross burning in front of their home. They say the cross had a noose attached.

They also told police they heard someone yelling racial slurs, but they couldn't see them.

Ms. Lyon said the couple and their five children - aged two to 17 -were left terrified by the incident and they considered moving from the area.

But they changed their minds after arrests were made and the community rallied to support them. The family received phone calls, email messages, cards and personal visits from people across the province offering their support and expressing shock.

A Facebook page, called We Support Shayne Howe, has more than 1,200 members.

Ms. Lyon said the couple had not experienced any problems within the community in the past.