Pair sentenced to 12 months of probation for racist incident at Richmond coffee shop

Michel Jean-Jacque Berthiaume — also known, and referred to throughout Thursday's hearing, as Eric Bethune — is seen in a screengrab of a video taken of the mischief incident he and Astrid Maria Secreve were sentenced for on Thursday. (instagram/bre_d - image credit)
Michel Jean-Jacque Berthiaume — also known, and referred to throughout Thursday's hearing, as Eric Bethune — is seen in a screengrab of a video taken of the mischief incident he and Astrid Maria Secreve were sentenced for on Thursday. (instagram/bre_d - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains racist language. 

A man and woman have been sentenced to 12 months of probation for a mischief incident aggravated by what the judge called "abhorrent" racist language directed at the victims.

Astrid Maria Secreve, 76, and 74-year-old Michel Jean-Jacque Berthiaume — also known, and referred to throughout Thursday's hearing, as Eric Bethune — were sentenced today in Richmond provincial court. They pled guilty in October.

The pair were charged after they spilled or threw coffee and directed racist language toward a manager, Nikki Tan, at Rocanini Coffee Roasters in Steveston in March 2021.

Liam Britten/CBC
Liam Britten/CBC

Judge Diana Vandor noted the confrontation escalated from the manager enforcing the coronavirus pandemic rules in place at the time.

The judge found that Secreve said "f--k you Chinese" and Berthiaume twice said "f--king Chinese," and also said "the coronavirus is you" to the manager, who is Chinese.

"He associated Ms. Tan to a virus. This is a dehumanizing expression that calls into question whether Ms. Tan qualifies as a human being," Vandor said.

"This kind of speech vilifies the targeted group by blaming its members for the current problems in society."

A legal expert present for the hearing welcomed Vandor's sentence, saying it sent a message that hate-motivated crimes are unacceptable in Canada.

Coffee meeting turns ugly

Vandor outlined some details leading up to the incident in March 2021.

Bethune and Secreve, once married but still close, met at Rocanini for mochas and a lemon square. They wanted to sit inside but the restaurant was at capacity for indoor dining based on then-current pandemic health requirements.

Instead of sitting outside, Bethune brought a table inside. They were told to leave by a barista who called his manger, Tan, to help.

Tan offered them a different indoor table that had opened up and had been sanitized. They refused to move and dumped their coffees on the floor. Tan testified Secreve said, "f--k you Chinese."

Liam Britten/CBC
Liam Britten/CBC

Video, Vandor continued, then showed Tan flicking her dish towel, hitting Secreve. It then showed Secreve "releasing her cup from her hand into the air." The cup landed on Tan's head but Vandor said it was unclear if the cup was thrown intentionally.

Bethune and Secreve scuffled with Tan, who tried to stop them from leaving as police were called. Tan recorded them on cellphone video as they left, capturing Bethune's racist comments.

Packed courtroom

The small courtroom was at capacity for the hearing.

Bethune and Secreve mostly stared straight ahead during the matter, which lasted about 90 minutes. They occasionally spoke to each other. Bethune tried to get a word in with Vandor as she read out the probation order but she spoke over him and he was ignored. The pair represented themselves.

The Crown sought an 18-month probation order and community service, cultural counselling and a written apology. Bethune and Secreve wanted an absolute discharge.

In settling on the 12-month probation order, Vandor noted the defendants' age, lack of criminal record and guilty pleas — which came three days into their trial, after Tan had testified — as mitigating factors.

She also noted as aggravating factors that the pair committed their crime during a severe time in the COVID-19 pandemic and that their actions seriously impacted Tan.

"She felt very traumatized for a very long time," Vandor said. "She eventually stopped working at the cafe three months later after the mischief because she was not comfortable working there any longer."

And while neither was charged with a hate crime, Vandor was satisfied that their actions were motivated, at least in part, by bias, prejudice or hate.

She ruled that extra measures like counselling or an apology would be pointless since the pair had not shown any remorse during the proceedings and had in fact attempted to portray themselves as wronged.

"Since Mr. Bethune and Ms. Secreve are not remorseful or apologetic for this offence, I am not persuaded they can be rehabilitated in this way," Vandor said.

Community reacts

Crown Counsel Darren Tam, speaking after the decision came down, was grateful the court condemned Bethune and Secreve's comments and actions but found it "difficult to reconcile" how their lack of remorse would exempt them from additional sentencing measures such as community service.

About a dozen people, many holding signs denouncing racism, gathered outside the court after the sentence was read.

"I thought the sentence was very fair and proportionate," said Vincent Yang, senior associate with UBC's International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy.

"I was very impressed that [Vandor] was able to ... include this in her consideration, the hate motivation."

Bethune and Secreve left court without commenting.