Last Updated: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 | 7:47 PM AT
A second Nova Scotia man has been found guilty of inciting racial hatred and criminal harassment after a cross was burned on an interracial couple's lawn near Windsor nine months ago.
Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice John Murphy convicted Nathan Rehberg, 21, of both charges after a two-day trial in Kentville. He will be sentenced in January.
Rehberg was charged with public incitement of hatred, criminal harassment, mischief and uttering threats. The charges of mischief and uttering threats were dropped.
In handing down the ruling, Murphy said there was little doubt that racism was behind Rehberg's decision to burn a cross in front of the home of Shayne Howe, who is black, and Michelle Lyon, who is white.
It's the second time in less than a week that the court has registered a hate crime conviction — a legal rarity in Canada.
Rehberg's younger brother, Justin, was found guilty on Friday of inciting hatred. The 20-year-old had earlier pleaded guilty to criminal harassment. He will be sentenced Dec. 14 on both charges.
Murphy said he accepted the Crown's submission that on Feb. 21, just after midnight, Nathan Rehberg used a lighter to set fire to a two-metre-high wooden cross, doused with some type of accelerant.
Murphy said testimony from Justin Rehberg confirmed Nathan Rehberg had built the cross and later dragged it to the nearby home of Howe and Lyon and their five children.
The children, between the ages of two and 17, were home at the time.
"The incident engendered fear," said Murphy. "I'm satisfied that [the fear] was reasonable."
He said the circumstances "give rise to the inevitable inference that racism was involved," and said the victims of the cross-burning had been left "appalled and terrified."
'It wasn't a racist act'
Immediately after the judge delivered his ruling, Nathan Rehberg walked out of the courtroom with his fiancée and other supporters.
"I'm nervous about what I'm going to get, but whatever it is, I deserve it," Rehberg told reporters about his sentencing.
"It wasn't a racist act but there was a lot of evidence to make it look like it was. I'm sorry if it was. My fiancée here is biracial. We have a biracial family. It's definitely not what I thought it was going to be but I am going to be a man and face the consequences."
Rehberg has said the cross-burning was retaliation for comments that Lyon had allegedly made, that members of Rehberg's family had a sexually transmitted disease.
"It may look like I incited a lot of people towards this but I wasn't trying to. I was just trying to make a point in the wrong way," Rehberg said.
Outside the courthouse, Howe said his family was relieved the two trials were over.
"There's no reason to have hate against anybody," he said. "We are who we are."
Lyon said she was also pleased with the ruling, but she added that she and her family intend to move to another community.
Earlier on Tuesday, defence lawyer Luke Craggs asked the judge to find Rehberg not guilty on the charges of trying to incite hatred and criminal harassment, arguing that the cross-burning was directed only at the people in the house, and there was no audience for Rehberg to provoke or incite.
Crown attorney Darrell Carmichael said that the act of burning a cross is itself an act of hatred against an identifiable group because of association with the racist group the Ku Klux Klan in the United States.
A conviction for public incitement of hatred carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment, while a criminal harassment conviction carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.