Halifax woman at centre of flawed rape investigation filing lawsuit
Lawyers for Carrie Low say her case was so badly handled by police it amounts to negligence
The Halifax woman who says the police investigation into her rape case was systematically mishandled is launching a lawsuit, after an officer who once led the investigation came forward with what lawyers believe is damning new evidence.
CBC News first reported in September the searing and violent details of how Carrie Low says she was abducted outside a Dartmouth, N.S., bar in May 2018 and raped by two men. She reported it to police, but what followed were months of delays, miscommunication and paperwork problems.
Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella subsequently announced the force would conduct an internal review of the investigation. But Low was never contacted, and police have not released the report, which Kinsella has confirmed is complete.
On Monday, a lawyer for Low plans to file a lawsuit seeking damages against the Halifax Regional Municipality and the federal government. It accuses Halifax Regional Police and RCMP of negligence, "reckless indifference" and intentionally inflicting mental suffering.
Low is already challenging in court a decision by the Nova Scotia Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner not to investigate her complaint against police, as it was filed outside the six-month statute of limitations.
In November, as Low sat in the public gallery of a Halifax courtroom as dates were being set for the judicial review hearing, her mind was racing. Only two days earlier, she'd learned dramatic new information about her case from none other than the first lead officer in the investigation.
"I was shocked because he wasn't currently on my file anymore and when we got the phone call, that he wanted to talk, I was blown away," Low said in an interview. "He wanted me to know the truth."
The basis of the lawsuit, according to Low's lawyers, is evidence from that officer, who said he tried to investigate Low's case but was told to shut down the probe and was then moved out of the sexual assault investigation team — a unit run by Halifax Regional Police and RCMP.
Low had been told by police he'd been moved in February 2019 for non-disciplinary reasons. But she received no other explanation. As delays continued, she began to resent the man first assigned her file.
A year and a half later, Low found herself sitting across from him, shocked by his version of events.
"He believed me from Day 1," Low said he told her. "And he tried his hardest to investigate, even around supervisors telling him not to. He would push for things, he was doing everything he could for me. And he was being gaslit by his own department."
The investigator, who is not named in court records, told Low he was instructed by senior officers in the unit to "shut it down."
He subsequently interviewed two persons of interest, but supervisors continued to tell him to "make it go away." He was so troubled by the experience he stopped working.
"He told me that my story was the straw that broke the camel's back for him," Low said.
But it didn't end there. She said the officer told her there were "just too many cases like mine where they aren't investigating properly."
Low said the officer couldn't explain why his supervisors in the sexual assault unit were eager to dismiss her story. The lawsuit said senior staff in the unit referred to her as a "drunk" and a "liar."
'Negligent police entity'
The officer has been on sick leave ever since, as he battles with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, according to Low's lawyers. Two of her lawyers were present for two separate meetings with the investigator.
"An entity that shuts the case down without an investigation, a policing entity that shuts a case down without an investigation, is a negligent police entity," said Halifax lawyer Mike Dull, who is representing Low.
"[It's] a systemic problem. It speaks to the fact that Carrie is not the only one, and it's that knowledge that I know is driving Carrie to take these very, very brave steps of coming forward."
Dull and his team, as well as Low herself, are facing a mountainous battle. But Dull said Low's case should be recognized as "trailblazing."
"Carrie is the Goliath in this case because she has the truth on her side. She has justice in her favour."
No statement of defence has yet been filed, and none of the allegations have been proven. Halifax Regional Police said in a statement the investigation of Low's case remains open.
"Under the oversight of a new HRP section manager, the case is being thoroughly investigated," spokesperson Neera Ritcey wrote in an email.
She said Kinsella has identified the sexual assault and homicide units as "priority areas" in an organizational review. Police are proposing a budget that seeks more resources for the criminal investigations division, which includes the units.
The sexual assault unit has been assigned a new Halifax Regional Police senior manager, and two new investigators have also been recently assigned to the unit "to address overall workload issues," the statement said.
'I know what happened'
Beyond systemic change in the police sexual assault unit through a cultural and policy shift, Dull said he hopes the case will pave the way for other survivors of sexual violence.
"My hope is for everything to come out [so that] everyone can see what's been happening. To hold them accountable for not doing their jobs."
Low continues to struggle with the trauma of the attack and of her experience with police. But she pushes forward.
"I know what happened. I know what didn't happen. And I know my initial drive has always been my daughters. This could have happened to one of them. So I feel it's my duty. I can't even tell you where it's coming from ... it's just it's come and I have to do it."
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- A previous version of this story stated the Nova Scotia provincial government was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed by Carrie Low. In fact, the lawsuit only named two parties, the Halifax Regional Municipality and the federal government. This story has been corrected.Jan 31, 2020 4:13 PM AT