Nova Scotia

Premier calls jailing of domestic violence complainant 'completely unacceptable'

Nova Scotia's premier says the jailing of a domestic violence complainant by Halifax Regional Police was "completely unacceptable" and is a sign that the justice system must be more "compassionate and understanding" when addressing domestic violence.

Serrece Winter was arrested and strapped to a restraint chair after failing to testify against her ex-partner

Premier Stephen McNeil says the justice system must be more 'compassionate and understanding' in regards to victims of domestic violence. (CBC)

NOTE: This story contains disturbing details and images.

Nova Scotia's premier says the jailing of a domestic violence complainant by Halifax Regional Police was "completely unacceptable" and is a sign that the justice system must be more "compassionate and understanding" when addressing domestic violence.

Serrece Winter, 45, of Dartmouth, N.S., was arrested on Nov. 20, 2019 after a judge issued a warrant at the Crown's request when she failed to appear in court to testify against her ex-partner, who was charged with assaulting her.

"[This situation] shows the lack of understanding by so many people of the terror of this terrible, terrible crime," Premier Stephen McNeil said Thursday. 

Serrece Winter has been charged with assaulting a peace officer in the Halifax Regional Police lockup after she was jailed for missing court because she was too afraid to testify against her former boyfriend. (Robert Short/CBC)

The details of the case were published by CBC News on Monday. Winter said in an interview that on the day of her arrest she had been at home drinking beer to find the courage to testify, and had passed out.

Her ex-partner had been facing 14 charges, including choking, assault causing bodily harm and unlawful confinement. Those charges were dropped Friday, but a peace bond was issued ordering him to keep his distance from Winter and not contact her for one year. He faces another five domestic violence-related charges.

Winter is part Black and part Indigenous, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and depression, and has a history of being assaulted by partners.

What happened at the Halifax Regional Police lockup was captured on video and shared with CBC News.

When Winter entered the booking area, she became agitated and complained that the officers had "put the victim in jail." She disclosed her mental health conditions but was later locked in a jail cell.

She began crying and smashed her head about 36 times against a cement wall.

After she stopped, seven officers came to the cell. She was pulled out and two of them covered her mouth with their hands as they pinned her head back and strapped her shoulders, wrists and ankles into a restraint chair, where she was held for just over an hour.

"Too many victims of domestic violence are scarred from the perpetrator, and coming forward takes a tremendous amount of courage — an unbelievable amount of courage — and then to have the system respond in the way it's alleged to have responded to this victim, is completely unacceptable," McNeil said.

Surveillance video of Serrece Winter in Halifax jail cell

11 months ago
8:03
(Warning: This video contains disturbing content) Surveillance cameras inside Halifax Regional Police headquarters show the conversation Serrece Winter had with officers before she was put in a jail cell, what happened inside the cell and how she was subsequently placed in a restraint chair. 8:03

The footage shows just 13 minutes passed between Winter challenging her arrest in the booking area and the moment officers forced her into the chair. She was charged with assault for allegedly kicking a booking officer's leg during the ordeal.

Mark Furey, the minister of justice, said he would like to review the situation and work toward a "different outcome."

"It troubles me that she's being retraumatized and the contributing factors to that are that she's back before the court herself, now as an offender," Furey said. "... We need a different understanding of domestic violence and we need a different response and we all have to work toward a different outcome."

Justice Minister Mark Furey says Winter is being retraumatized and he would like to review the situation. (CBC)

Kelly Regan, the minister of community services who is also responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said studies show that victims of domestic assault will be "attacked at least seven times before they ever report it to the police."

Regan said Winter's story is "deeply disturbing" and she immediately contacted Furey to discuss it.

"We're looking at this because this should not be happening," Regan said. "A person who has been victimized already, should be lauded for their courage in coming forward and we want to make sure that they are treated with respect."

Kelly Regan, the minister of community services who is also responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, says Winter's story is "deeply disturbing." (CBC)

McNeil said he has not spoken to the Crown about the decision to arrest Winter, but there are questions that still need to be answered and he plans to work with Furey to address the situation.

"To have our system respond that way, regardless of all of the other circumstances related to it, the system just needs to become more compassionate and understanding and recognize the tremendous courage that women [have] in this province to come forward," McNeil said.

"And until it does, until all aspects of our system responds in that caring, compassionate, kind way, we're going to see perpetrators get away with this horrible crime." 

Felix Cacchione, the director of the Serious Incident Response Team, said it has not been asked by the Halifax police to investigate the incident, as Winter did not receive any physical injuries.

Are you facing intimate partner violence? Here are some N.S. resources that can help

With files from Michael Gorman, Jean LaRoche and Elizabeth Chiu

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