Man who hurled racist threats at three Muslim women was homeless, took bad drugs, court hears

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A man who threatened three Muslim women on the streets of Edmonton earlier this year was homeless and in a state of drug-induced psychosis, a court heard Wednesday.

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Shane Edward Tremblay was sentenced to 210 days in jail Wednesday for a disparate series of crimes, including three allegedly “hate-motivated” attacks on women wearing hijabs or niqabs.

Tremblay gave a tearful statement from a cell at the Edmonton Remand Centre moments before provincial court Judge Terry Matchett passed sentence.

“I took some wrong drugs,” Tremblay said. “I’m not saying it’s the drug’s fault, I’m the one who allowed myself to get to that state — not sleeping right, staying up on the street all night.”

The 44-year-old said he was seeing things and believed the women were carrying “stuff” in their backpacks that could harm him.

“I know about racism in this city — I’m not a racist or hateful person,” he said

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“I just made a mistake, I never thoughtthis would happen to me — getting drug psychosis — but it did.”

Tremblay accounted for three of eight allegedly hate-motivated assaults reported to police in the Edmonton area between December and June. Most of the victims are Muslim women who wear head coverings.

None of the incidents were charged as hate crimes, though police recommended enhanced sentencing under Section 718.2 of the Criminal Code.

The assaults have led to calls to combat racism and better protect Muslim women. More than 300 people gathered at a rally outside Edmonton City Hall last Friday after two Muslim sisters were attacked by a knife-wielding man on a pathway in St. Albert. The suspect in that case has not been arrested.

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Tremblay’s is the third case to make it through the courts and the only one so far to deal with the allegations of hate as a motivation. All three defendants so far have been homeless or of no fixed address.

Tremblay pleaded guilty Wednesday to eight crimes that took place between December and February, including stealing a bottle of vodka, throwing a brick at an Edmonton Transit Service truck and assaulting a 66-year-old man on a bus without provocation.

He also admitted to uttering threats at three Muslim women and assaulting one.

Demonstrators demanding action and protection for Muslim women gathered during the Enough is Enough rally at Churchill Square in Edmonton, on Friday, June 25, 2021.
Demonstrators demanding action and protection for Muslim women gathered during the Enough is Enough rally at Churchill Square in Edmonton, on Friday, June 25, 2021. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia

The first assault took place on the afternoon of Jan. 18, 2021, at a 7-Eleven on Whyte Avenue. According to the Crown, Tremblay followed a 43-year-old Black woman out of the convenience store and became belligerent towards her. The woman fled back inside after Tremblay threatened her, uttering “you Black b—-, I will kill you.” While in the store he head butted the woman in the head left before police arrived.

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The woman was shaken but did not require medical treatment.

Just after noon on Feb. 3, Tremblay menaced two more women in the Whyte Avenue area. First, he threatened a 19-year-old woman wearing a hijab at a transit station, getting in her face and acting as though he was going to punch her. At some point during the incident he said “I know about you and what your people are about, and I will come for you and your people.” He left after a bystander intervened.

Half an hour later, he attacked a woman on Whyte Avenue wearing a niqab, telling her “I will kill you and tear off what you’re wearing.”

Neither woman suffered physical injuries. Tremblay was arrested on March 5 after police found him sleeping in a transit centre.

Methal Fayad, a student-at-law who represented Tremblay, said his client took a turn for the worse when his sister died five years ago. Around that time, he went on disability and has been unable to work. He is now homeless, with no means to support himself and has a criminal record running six pages. Methamphetamine addiction has “torn his life apart.”

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Tremblay is Indigenous and the grandchild of residential school survivors, Fayad said, adding he grew up in Lac La Biche, a community with one of the largest per capita Muslim populations in Canada.

Fayad claimed Tremblay was not motivated by a “hatred toward Muslim women or the Muslim religion.” While Fayad had no formal psychiatric evidence, he said Tremblay used drugs in the lead-up to the attacks and that his actions were an “unexpected consequence of his troubling relationship with methamphetamine.”

Matchett called the attacks “deplorable.” Though the women were not seriously physically injured, the mental and emotional toll on themselves and their communities was “extremely concerning,” he said.

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“As these assaults occur … they instil fear not only in the victims but in the community,” said Matchett. “There’s a significant harm to the Muslim community when these attacks occur.”

He added: “All citizens in our country must be free to be in our communities … without any fear whatsoever of being picked upon, of being assaulted, of being targeted.”

Matchett accepted that while drugs were a factor in Tremblay’s case, “I certainly don’t believe it was by happenstance that the victims in this case happened to be Muslim women.”

He accepted a joint submission from the Crown and defence for 210 days in jail for all eight crimes. With credit for time in pretrial custody, Tremblay has 35 days left to serve.

Tremblay said he plans to go to treatment and hopes to one day become an addictions counsellor.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield

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