Former skinhead vows to reform

January 30, 2006

Former skinhead vows to reform Windsor's Quinn McFarlane pleads guilty to hate crime in order to turn life around Trevor Wilhelm, Windsor Star

Quinn McFarlane hopes his guilty plea this month to an eight-year-old hate crime has closed the last chapter of his former life.

He was a racist neo-Nazi skinhead who spent time in jail for a knifepoint robbery in Windsor. Before that, he led a hate-filled protest against Roma refugee claimants.

'I just want to lead a quiet, peaceful life,' said Quinn McFarlane, 27, who moved to Windsor six years ago. 'Get married, have kids. Not be someone people have to worry about -- the opposite of what I was in those days. I want to pastor a church and do prison ministry. In jail the chaplain helped me grow as a Christian and become a better person. They're the ones who made a difference.'

McFarlane and fellow former skinhead Ryan Marshall pleaded guilty Jan. 4 in Toronto to promoting hatred against a group of Czech Roma refugee claimants, eight years after they were acquitted on a technicality.

Police charged them in 1997 after a demonstration outside the Scarborough motel housing the immigrants.

Roma, considered gypsies in Europe because of their nomadic roots, have suffered systemic racism at home, including the denial of medical care, schooling and housing. They were the targets of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and the Nazis tried to exterminate them during the Second World War.

McFarlane received a suspended sentence for leading the demonstration. Marshall got a conditional discharge. Both men also have a year of probation and must write an apology letter to the Roma community.

Charges against four others were dropped.

The skinheads hoisted Nazi and American Confederate flags outside the hotel chanting 'Gypsies Out' and 'How do you like Canada now?' They waved signs with racist slogans such as 'Canada is not a trash can,' 'You're a Cancer to Canada,' and 'White power.'

They were originally found not guilty despite defence admitting at trial that Roma were an identifiable group protected by the hate crimes law.

In February 2005 the Supreme Court overturned the acquittals.

'I wanted to plead guilty years ago,' said McFarlane. 'My lawyer talked me out of it because of the other defendants. I'm ashamed. I wish I didn't have to say I was that person.'

About six years ago McFarlane moved to Windsor, where his father Wayne Schreiner lives, and got some counselling.

But he ended up spending two years behind bars for robbing a man at knifepoint here. While on the inside, he picked up a Bible. He got out in 2003 and says everything has changed.

He started classes at Heritage Bible College in Cambridge, Ont., studying to be a church pastor. McFarlane took a year off school working at a plastics factory to whittle down his student debt and hopes to hit the books again in September.

He's also trying to make amends.

McFarlane said he told a Roma leader following his guilty plea he'd like to read his apology letter to the community's members.

McFarlane said he wants to tell them how sorry he is and explain what kind of person he was back then.

'Extremely angry and violent.'

McFarlane said he saw a few of his old cohorts at court, and some are still like that.

'They don't like me much,' he said. 'They see me as a traitor. They're disappointed with my being a Christian.'