TORONTO (Sep. 4)
The Ontario Court of Appeal set an important precedent last week in the sentencing of a white supremacist who defaced two religious institutions last year, Jewish officials here say.
The court doubled the sentence of a 23-year-old man who spray-painted the Shaarei Shomayim synagogue and the Yeshiva Yesodei Hatorah with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans on June 10, 1989.
Zvonimir Lelas was released from jail in July after serving two-thirds of a six-month sentence for three counts of mischief.
Two out of three Court of Appeal judges agreed that Lelas’ actions deserved a longer sentence.
The majority decision, written by Justice Lloyd Houlden, said the original sentence was not sufficient “to meet the needs of general deterrence and to show society’s abhorrence of such acts.”
Houlden also made it clear in his ruling that the desecration of any place of worship should not be taken lightly.
“It is immaterial what faith is involved: whether it is a Sikh temple, an Islamic mosque, a Jewish synagogue or a Christian church; acts of vandalism against such structures will not be tolerated.”
The dissenting judge, Justice Patrick Galligan, did not think a higher sentence was appropriate, saying that this would give the appearance of imposing punishment on Lelas for his beliefs and opinions.
But Houlden said he would have sentenced Lelas to an even longer term in jail, were it not for the fact that he had already completed his sentence and now faces going to jail again.
The prosecution had been asking for Lelas to be sentenced to two years less a day, “to reflect the gravity of the offense and society’s denunciation of the kind of conduct involved.”
According to the Canadian Jewish News, Crown Attorney Jamie Klukach argued that Lelas “fully intended” to injure with his actions. She quoted him as saying he uses Nazi symbols “only to enrage the Jewish community.”
Court documents show that Lelas consumed several beers and two hits of LSD while at a party with friends before he defaced the shul and yeshiva that night, accompanied by 18-year-old Elizabeth Major of Toronto.
The two painted the slogans “White Power,” “Nazism” and “Smash ZOG,” which stands for Zionist Occupation Government, on the buildings, along with several swastikas on the shul and sidewalk outside.
Lelas has been a member of the Ku Klux Klan since January 1989. According to the Canadian Jewish Congress, he holds the highest rank in the KKK and was an organizer of a white supremacist rally last year in Minden, Ontario.
Crown Attorney Klukach told the court that while Lelas apologized to the Jewish community for the act, he soon after asked police to return three Nazi flags, a framed photograph of Adolf Hitler, a KKK membership card and a Klansman’s white robe and hood that police confiscated in a raid on his apartment last year.
“When an offense is motivated by racial hatred, that must weigh heavily in the penalty,” Klukach was quoted by the Canadian Jewish News as saying. “This was not a momentary lapse into foolishness.”
“The offense was made serious not by the dollar value of the damage caused, but by the nature of the places vandalized,” she said.
About 65 percent of Shaarei Shomayim’s members are Holocaust survivors, Klukach pointed out. Lelas still poses a threat, she said, and a stiffer sentence must be imposed to deter him.