Nova Scotia

Judge orders police commissioner to reinvestigate allegation of excessive force

A Nova Scotia judge has ordered the Police Complaints Commissioner to reinvestigate a young black man’s complaint that he was arrested without cause and with excessive force, saying its initial review was unreasonable, not thorough and ignored issues of systemic racism.

'I want them to be accountable for their actions,' says Cory Taylor

Cory Taylor says his nose was injured during his arrest in the early hours of Aug. 12, 2017, in downtown Halifax. He alleges he was arrested without cause, that unnecessary force was used and that he was mistreated during his detention. (Submitted by Cory Taylor)

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge has ordered the Police Complaints Commissioner to reinvestigate a young black man's complaint against two Halifax officers, saying its initial review was unreasonable, not thorough and ignored issues of racism.

Cory Taylor, 20, filed a complaint with Halifax Regional Police in November 2017 claiming he was arrested without cause, that unnecessary force was used and that he was mistreated during his detention in connection with an incident in the early hours of Aug. 12, 2017.

Taylor alleges he was arrested after he and five friends had an altercation with a group of men who hurled racial slurs at them in a downtown Halifax street.

He said that following the fight and as the group dispersed, police arrived on the scene. He said Const. Donna Paris tackled him from behind and pushed him against a building, injuring his nose. Taylor alleges he did not hear any sort of verbal warning, a claim disputed by the officer.

He was then arrested, taken to the police station, and released the next day without charge.

"It was terrifying actually, like, I kind of felt helpless," Taylor said in an interview.

"It's like I didn't matter to anyone. I was just being isolated and every officer refused to talk to me and answer any of my questions. I had no idea what to do."

Taylor says he is still haunted by the arrest. He hopes the Police Complaints Commissioner takes the reinvestigation seriously. (Submitted by Cory Taylor)

Taylor said no one else involved in the altercation was arrested, and the other group of men — who were white — were treated as victims. One member of that group was accompanied by a police officer to the hospital.

A delegate of Halifax's police chief dismissed Taylor's complaints of misconduct by Paris, who is black, and Const. Devon Norris, who is white, and was also on scene that night.

Taylor requested a review of the complaint by the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner. Commissioner Judith McPhee said Taylor's complaint did not have merit and "there are no facts upon which a review board could make a finding of misconduct."

Taylor then applied for a judicial review of his case on the grounds of procedural unfairness and unreasonableness.

In his decision, Justice Gerald Moir pointed to a number of issues in the office's investigation, saying the commissioner's investigator did not conduct a thorough review and the commissioner did not have enough information to make a proper decision.

'Background of established systemic racism'

The decision also makes note of criminologist Scot Wortley's report on street checks for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, and how "a young black man's complaints about how he was treated by Halifax police have to be understood against the background of established systemic racism."

"In light of systemic racism, the apparent cause of the altercation demands far more information before the Police Complaints Commission could come to a conclusion that Mr. Taylor's complaints had no merit," Moir wrote in the Sept. 27 decision.

"That act is directly relevant to the assessment of the grounds for the arrest and of the justification for the detention. Our understanding of unconscious racism in encounters between police and young black men shines light on the need for detailed information about the overt racism that caused the encounter in the first place."

Moir's decision noted that police records about the reason for Taylor's arrest are inconsistent and various, including public intoxication, assault and breach of peace.

He noted that the arrest for breach of peace is problematic, given the Criminal Code sets out that the officer must witness the breach of peace in order to make an arrest. Paris did not witness the fight.

"A review board might be concerned about the failure to reflect the Criminal Code requirement that the officer witness the breach," the decision said, noting Halifax Regional Police's own policies do not specify this requirement.  

'Wholly inadequate' 

The judge said the commissioner's delegate spent 13 hours investigating the incident before attempting to call Taylor, including interviewing the manager of the bar Taylor and his friends were at earlier in the night.

He said it doesn't appear that constables Paris and Norris were questioned, nor were witnesses to the altercation, and attempts to obtain the contact information of the friends were "wholly inadequate."

Moir noted that the investigator said Taylor's behaviour was "escalating" on the night in question, but he said that behaviour should have been considered in the context of the racial slurs.

"A consensual fight provoked by racial insults is no basis for the assault arrest or the breach of the peace detention. It would, however, explain the so-called escalation," he wrote.

Halifax Regional Police referred CBC's inquiries to the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner. Jeff Garber, a spokesperson for the office, said the office has received the decision and "next steps are being considered."

Taylor, who lived in Dartmouth, N.S., at the time of the arrest but has since moved to an area near Mississauga, Ont., said he was encouraged by the judge's decision, and hopes the commissioner takes the reinvestigation seriously.

"I want them to be accountable for their actions and I want to prevent this from happening … the police abusing their authority and power over us," he said. 

Racism cannot be ignored

"It left a big mark on my mind. It just doesn't go away. I still relive the feelings and the moment. It's pretty tough, but it's getting better every day."

Benjamin Perryman, a Halifax-based lawyer who took on Taylor's case, said the judge's decision is unequivocal that systemic and overt racism cannot be ignored in such cases.

"When we look at what happened as a result of that altercation, it's a reasonable question to ask: why was only a black individual arrested? Why were the white people automatically treated as victims and escorted to the hospital?" said Perryman.

"That casts doubt on the lawfulness of the arrest of Mr. Taylor in these circumstances."

Wanda Taylor, the young man's mother, said she was worried sick when her son didn't arrive home that evening and spent hours cruising the streets looking for him. She even went to the police station and was told there was no one there fitting his description.

Taylor's mother, Wanda Taylor, says she encouraged her son to file a complaint after he came home from the police station traumatized and with a bloodied nose. (Submitted by Cory Taylor)

She said her son had never been in trouble before, and was traumatized by the incident and the way he was treated. She said her son's complaint was never taken seriously, and the entire process was flawed.

"When that very first officer who was doing the first investigation called me, he told me, 'These are two really good officers. I believe what they say,' and this was before he had done any investigation," said Wanda Taylor, who has also left the Halifax area and now lives near Toronto.

"I wasn't surprised, but I was so frustrated."

Wanda Taylor said the judge's decision is important because it recognizes that systemic racism can play a role in such incidents. She hopes Halifax officers receive more training in that respect.

Moir's ruling sets aside the Sept. 20, 2018, decision of the commissioner and sends the case back to the commissioner to "make a determination after thorough investigation."

If the Police Complaints Commissioner reinvestigates the case and finds that Taylor's complaints have merit, it would be forwarded to an independent review board for a hearing.