12/23/2011 04:29 EST | Updated 02/22/2012 05:12 EST

Vancouver lawyer attacks 'neo-Nazi' allegations

Lawyers for three men charged in a series of Lower Mainland assaults police characterized as hate crimes appeared in Vancouver provincial court Friday and asked the judge to push back the men's arraignment dates.

The three men — Robertson de Chazal, 25, Alastair Miller, 20, and Shawn MacDonald, 39 — are facing assault charges stemming from several incidents, including one where a man was set on fire.

On Oct. 10, 2009, a 26-year-old Filipino man from New Westminster, B.C., passed out on a couch that had been discarded on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver. He woke up to find his clothes burning, and suffered minor injuries before being able to put the flames out.

Witnesses in the area reported seeing three men standing over the sleeping man and spraying some type of fluid, believed to be lighter fluid, on the victim before lighting him on fire.

When charges were laid in this case, police described the accused as alleged members of a white supremacist group called Blood and Honour.

But a lawyer for de Chazal, David Sutherland, said that police shouldn't have staged a news conference labelling the men as neo-Nazis.

"It's difficult for Mr. de Chazal, his family and his friends to defend themselves from the totally inappropriate imputations and innuendo the police levelled after the charges were laid," Sutherland said.

Sutherland said de Chazal intends to plead not guilty to the assault charges laid against him stemming from the couch fire incident and from another incident involving an assault against a black man.

All three of the accused are not currently in police custody. They are scheduled to appear in court in January.