Judge jails nightmare neighbour

Nanaimo, Canada - A family in a north Nanaimo neighbourhood harassed and tormented by a neighbour because of their religious beliefs are relieved the man is now in jail, but they still worry he may return.

On Tuesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Brian MacKenzie sentenced Leonard Smith to three months in jail and two years of probation on a single count of criminal harassment. Though Smith was living with his parents and said at the sentencing hearing he is considering moving to Alberta, Stephen and Lisa Relkoff said he has left and returned before to Icarus Drive.

The Relkoffs, who are Jehovah's Witnesses, said the problems with Smith started in 2005 when he began making threatening gestures and comments to Stephen Relkoff. Though Smith was convicted on a prior charge of threatening Relkoff and put on probation for 18 months, the harassment and threats continued. Court documents indicate that Smith may be suffering from a mental disorder.

While Relkoff told the court that Smith often made an obscene gesture or drew his finger across his throat, he said the verbal abuse always made reference to their religion, often calling it a "cult." In sentencing Smith, MacKenzie took into account a section of the Criminal Code that allows "bias, prejudice or hate-based" motives to be seen as an aggravating factor.

Relkoff said that in one incident in May this year, not reported to police at the time, Smith claimed to be a member of the Hells Angels.

"He said, 'I'm with the Angels now. You're going down, I'm going to kill you, you'll be out there,' pointing to the ocean," Relkoff said in the trial.

While Relkoff and his family did their best to avoid Smith, in June they called police after Smith confronted a terrified Lisa Relkoff and their 11-year-old son. In a barrage of insults, Smith yelled at her, "you f--ing JWs . . . you all ought to be shot." Smith, who sat in leg shackles with a deputy sheriff less than a metre away, defended himself. On the stand, he denied making threats but admitted to insulting the Relkoffs.

MacKenzie found that Smith "tormented, troubled, badgered and plagued" the Relkoffs, who feared for their safety.

Outside court, the Relkoffs said the experience was stressful for them, their family and friends. Stephen Relkoff said he has not ruled out moving if Smith returns to his parents' home. "You have to do what you have to do to protect your family," he said.

Lisa Relkoff said all Canadians are entitled to their religious beliefs without being harassed.

"It would be unacceptable to any religious organization," she said. "It's about the freedom of being able to practise your religion."