Nova Scotia

Halifax police chief orders review into rape case at centre of complaint

A Halifax woman who endured an 18-month police investigation into her rape case with little result is going to court to try to change police processes for the future. Meanwhile, Halifax police say they will conduct an internal review.

Carrie Low says she endured systemic failures in 18-month police investigation following her rape by two men

Carrie Low speaks to the media outside of Nova Scotia Supreme Court. (Robert Short/CBC)

Halifax's police chief has ordered an internal review after a CBC News report about flaws in his department's 18-month investigation into a rape.

Chief Dan Kinsella said he is taking Carrie Low's concerns about how Halifax police handled her sexual assault case "very seriously" and will conduct a review of the investigation "in its totality." 

Kinsella said he read the CBC News story which detailed the confusion, inaction and months of delays following Low's report of being drugged and sexually assaulted to police last year. 

"They're concerning," he said. "As a result of that I'm going to be looking into it first with a review and see what I get back from there, and then make a determination on where we go from there." 

On Monday morning, Low was at Nova Scotia Supreme Court to try to force the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner to hear her complaint against Halifax Regional Police. Her complaint was initially rejected because she filed it outside of the six-month statute of limitations. 

"What has given me strength to go forward is change. I want to see change," Low said outside court. 

"Having lived the experience of going through the police process is difficult, and I want to make changes to that for survivors." 

Low says in May 2018 she was at a neighbourhood bar in Dartmouth with friends when her drink was spiked with drugs. She retains flashes of memories of being kidnapped and violently raped by two men. 

Low immediately went to police to report the crime, but says from the beginning police did not follow proper procedures. She says they took 10 days to pick up her clothes, did not visit the scene of the crime, and failed to process her toxicology paperwork for months.  

Frustrated with the police handling of her case, Low tried to file a complaint with the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner. Supported by the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, she has turned to the courts to try to force the office to investigate her concerns. 

"There's a difference of opinion from our team," said Emma Halpern, the executive director of Elizabeth Fry. 

"That six months should not be from the moment that the incident occurred, but rather should be from the moment that the failures occurred. And our argument is that those failures continue to occur." 
Emma Halpern, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, speaks to Carrie Low outside court. (Robert Short/CBC)

Although Halpern says there were many failures in the police process, the one they must address first is that six-month delay in the complaint system. 

"The only avenue available to us in order to address the failures in the investigation is the complaints process," Halpern said. 

"The first step is to access the process, and then we can start to look at what happened? Where did this all go wrong? And how do we make sure this does not happen again and make change for the future." 

Lawyer Jessica Rose appeared before Justice Peter Rosinski on Monday on behalf of Low and the Elizabeth Fry Society. 

Sheldon Choo appeared on behalf of the police complaints commissioner and the attorney general. 

Monday's hearing was only to set dates for legal proceedings. The matter will be back in court on Nov. 18 to address some preliminary matters, and the full hearing will take place between March 3-5, 2020. 
Jessica Rose, a lawyer for the Elizabeth Fry Society, speaks to the media outside court. (Robert Short/CBC)

Outside court, Rose said her clients' view is the six-month regulation under the Police Act is outdated and needs to be changed. 

"We would certainly call on the Legislature to call on the act and the regulations and what they can do in order to make the system more responsive," she said. 

Monday, the NDP caucus signalled it is considering how to do that. 

"Our caucus is discussing what the appropriate regulatory or legislative solutions to this are, and we certainly intend to bring some of those forward in the next session," said NDP House Leader Claudia Chender. 
Claudia Chender is the NDP MLA for Dartmouth South. (Robert Short/CBC)

Chender said the NDP is considering putting forward a bill on the six-month limitation.

A spokesperson for the PC caucus said they are watching the Low case "closely" and that the PCs would support measures to improve the justice system for victims. However, she added it is premature to comment on a bill that hasn't been written yet. 

The Liberal caucus referred comment to the provincial Department of Justice, which said in an email Minister Mark Furey is "familiar with this matter and aware of the six-month limitation of action." 

"This is something we are looking at," the email from spokesperson Sarah Levy MacLeod continued.

"The Department of Justice regularly reviews legislation and regulations to ensure they meet the needs of Nova Scotians."

For Low, she feels a one-year time limit that rolls through the last action in the investigation would be more appropriate than a hard six-month limit. 

"In sexual assault trauma, we need time to process what really actually happened and we need time to seek therapy, seek counsel, seek all these things. We don't have that ability in the first six months," she said. 

Low said it was only recently that she has found enough stability in her life to seek change in the justice system, but she always knew she wanted to speak out on behalf of others. 

"I knew from the beginning when I went to the emergency department it wasn't just about me, it was bigger than me. It was my daughters. It was for other women. I had to report this." 

About the Author

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca