Ukrainian newcomer left with scar, nightmares as ‘constant reminder’ of 2022 stabbing at The Forks, court told

WARNING: This story contains graphic details of violence:

A newcomer to Winnipeg from Ukraine who was bear-sprayed, stabbed in the neck and beaten two years ago says he still has nightmares from the “profound impact” of the unprovoked attack on Canada Day, just weeks after fleeing his war-torn home country.

He remembers clearly the moment a doctor told him, ahead of emergency surgery to repair a collapsed lung and jugular vein, that there was a “very real chance he would not survive.”

“The pain, the surgery, and the scar serve as a constant reminder,” Crown attorney Melissa Schrader said Tuesday as she read out the man’s victim impact statement in a Winnipeg courtroom. 

“They encroached on the most intimate thing I have, my life, without any reason.”

Schrader asked for a six-year sentence for Tyson Cole Steven Bechard, 21, for his role in the three-on-one attack across from the the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on July 1, 2022. Bechard pleaded guilty to aggravated assault last fall.

Bechard, who was 19 at the time, was accused with another man his age, Jayden Kyle Martin, and a 15-year-old boy of attacking two Ukrainian refugees at The Forks after Canada Day celebrations at the national historic site.

The two victims had fled to Canada in late May and early June that year, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As Bechard and three other friends were crossing the street in front of the museum that evening, one person in his group and one of the Ukrainian newcomers bumped into each other, Schrader said as she read out a statement of facts.

One of the newcomers apologized, court heard.

The three co-accused doubled back and attacked the men. A fourth in their group stayed out of it, according to Schrader.

Boasted of attack

The 15-year-old bear-sprayed the men, one of whom started to run, while the other fell to the ground. 

Court heard that man said, “what is wrong, I don’t understand,” and asked his attackers to stop, calling them “comrade” and telling them he was from Ukraine.

Martin stabbed the man twice and the blade snapped off in his neck, court heard.

Bechard admitted he punched the man twice in the head.

The attackers fled on a Winnipeg Transit bus. Passersby attended to the injured man until police arrived and he was rushed to hospital in critical condition.

The other Ukrainian newcomer didn’t provide a statement in court, but Schrader said “he was so scared that he actually wanted to leave Canada. He was no longer feeling safe.”

Surveillance footage from the bus played in court Tuesday showed the people accused discussing the event — including  remarking about how the knife blade snapped off in the man’s neck.

Bechard can be heard saying, “I punched the guy right in the head.” 

Another in the group can be heard saying, “I’m from Ukraine, I’m from Ukraine,” parroting what the victim said as he was attacked.

“Mr. Bechard and his friends are boasting about the assault throughout the recording, they’re laughing … a number of times talking about whether they will be on the news,” Schrader said.

‘Not a person we should give up on’: defence

Provincial court Judge Vincent Sinclair asked if the crime was considered hate-motivated.

Bechard’s defence lawyer Tony Kavanagh said it wasn’t a targeted incident, and the group learned only during the attack the men were Ukrainian. Schrader agreed.

“[Bechard] tells me he was very remorseful that these were Ukrainian folks,” Kavanagh said.

A pre-sentence report showed Bechard had family members who attended residential schools and he was disconnected from his Indigenous culture. There was substance abuse in his family, and that was also a factor for Bechard, who Kavanagh said no longer drinks but still consumes cannabis. 

The report noted Bechard as a high risk to reoffend, court heard.

Schrader asked Judge Sinclair to impose a six-year sentence for the “callous disregard” of the attack. Kavanagh argued that’s too high, because his client had no prior criminal record.

Kavanagh also said Bechard didn’t know the victim had been stabbed when he punched him. He acknowledges he was wrong and co-operated with investigators, says Kavanagh, who has asked Sinclair for between 3½ and four years. 

“This is a young individual who still has a future; this is not a person we should give up on,” Kavanagh said.

The 15-year-old co-accused, who can’t be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was previously sentenced to two years of community custody and supervision, the youth max for aggravated assault, said Schrader.

Martin pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and is expected to be sentenced soon. He could face up to six years in prison, court heard.

Sinclair adjourned Tuesday to consider the sentence recommendations for Bechard, who is not in custody and appeared in court in a grey hoodie, blue jeans and black boots.

“Safe to say that you can expect to go to penitentiary,” Sinclair said to Bechard. “I want you to think long and hard about anything you want to tell me.”