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Sexual assault complainant asks N.S. court to order probe over police errors

HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia woman who says the investigation of her sexual assault case was mishandled is seeking the reinstatement of a complaint against police that was dismissed because it arrived too late.
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HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia woman who says the investigation of her sexual assault case was mishandled is seeking the reinstatement of a complaint against police that was dismissed because it arrived too late.

Carrie Low alleges that after she was taken in a car, driven to a site outside Halifax and assaulted in the early hours of May 19, 2018, police failed to promptly visit the scene, interview a witness or have her clothing and blood tests processed in police labs.

However, Nova Scotia's Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner notified Low last year that her complaint against the Halifax Regional Police wouldn't be reviewed because the six-month time limit to report an alleged incident of police misconduct had passed.

Jessica Rose, a lawyer with the Elizabeth Fry Society representing Low, argued Tuesday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court the rejection of Low's May 13, 2019 complaint should be reversed, and the complaints commissioner should study her case.

She argued that Low's complaint was a wide-ranging one against the police department's misconduct occurring over a one-year period.

She also said Low had no way of knowing within the deadline period the precise date of the errors made by investigating officers with the Halifax police and the RCMP. Some were errors of omission, such as failing to send evidence for testing, that extended over months, the lawyer said.

For example, the lawyer said, it was almost a year after the alleged assault that Low learned her clothing and blood samples hadn't been sent for testing.

Justice Department lawyer Sheldon Choo noted that a regulation of the province's Police Act states a complaint "must not be processed'' if it is made more than six months after "the date of the occurrence that gave rise to the complaint." Choo said the law does not give the complaints commissioner "unfettered discretion" to consider complaints.

The regulation has recently been changed to allow for a one-year period to launch a complaint and to allow the complaints commissioner discretion to extend the deadline when in the public interest. However, the regulatory change won't come into effect until next year.

Choo said the failure to send the clothing and blood for testing as of April 2019 was largely a matter for the RCMP, and the complaints commissioner could reasonably have concluded this didn't involve the Halifax regional police force.

Choo faced a question from Justice Ann Smith over whether Low's complaint didn't in fact extend over more than a year, with some incidents occurring within six months of her complaint. The judge also questioned how in formulating her complaint Low was supposed to know "who did and didn't do different parts of the investigation."

In a recent development, Halifax police issued a Feb. 13 news release stating they are planning to lay charges against a 33-year-old man for sexual assault and forcible confinement in connection with a May 19, 2018 incident.

Police don't identify the victim, but Low said outside court on Tuesday that she was told by police the arrest was in relation to her alleged sexual assault.

A police spokesman said in an email that as of Tuesday morning the charges have still not been sworn before a court, almost three weeks after the initial news release.

Low has said she blacked out through much of the incident but has had brief and painful recollections of waking to being assaulted. She said she was able to identify the location to police.

She said she also believes she was drugged while she was having a drink at a neighbourhood pub, but evidence to confirm what was in her blood wasn't immediately sent to a lab for processing.

Low said outside court that six months is too short a deadline for an emotionally distraught survivor of a sexual assault to realize they may have been treated improperly by police and to lodge a complaint.

"The overall goal for myself is to have my complaint heard and in doing so to make changes for others who come after me," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2020.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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