Citizen's complaint filed over Halifax police's use of force, sprays during protest

A private citizen has launched a formal complaint on the police tactics used as they clashed with protesters during the destruction of a small shelter for the homeless in the summer.

 

The complaint filed to the Halifax police was outlined Monday by Chief Daniel Kinsella during a municipal board meeting considering another possible civilian review of the tensions that erupted on Aug. 18 outside the former Halifax public library site.

Kinsella told the Halifax board of police commissioners -- a municipal police oversight board -- about the probe into the citizen's complaint as a city lawyer questioned whether the commissioners have jurisdiction to order their own independent review.

The chief said the citizen's complaint is on "perceived issues" of police performance in areas such as whether officers properly identified themselves or employed excessive force when they used chemical irritants and riot gear against the crowd.

After hearing about the complaint, the members of the municipal board decided to send their own potential review to a staff study and for an outside legal opinion on the jurisdiction issue.

When a citizen files a complaint, the first step is for police to conduct an internal review, and if the citizen isn't satisfied with the result, the matter can go before the provincial police complaints commissioner and eventually to a public hearing conducted by the police review board. Much of this process is behind closed doors.

Usually the complaints focus on the conduct of individual officers and whether they followed regulations of the province's Police Act, but Kinsella said in this complaint, there were wider concerns about police procedures.

"It's a complaint about the police in general and it does cover use of force, it covers identification and those types of issues," said the chief, who did not name the complainant.

The Aug. 18 demonstration grew tense after police arrested a man who had been sitting on the roof of one of the small wooden shelters erected by an advocacy group for the homeless.

After the protest spilled from a lawn into nearby streets, officers sprayed people with chemical irritants, and police later donned riot gear to keep demonstrators away from the shelter when contractors arrived to cut it into pieces. It was part of a citywide operation to remove temporary shelters erected on municipal property.

Police said 24 protesters were charged with a variety of offences, including obstruction, assaulting police and resisting arrest, with the majority of those charged set to appear on Nov. 4 at Halifax provincial court.

The East Coast Prison Justice Society Board has been collecting signatures for a petition -- with over 4,400 signatures as of Monday afternoon -- calling for an independent probe of police actions. The group's demand was supported by Harry Critchley, one of the seven commissioners, in a motion he brought to Monday's meeting.

Critchley said he believed his proposal could still go forward as the seven-member board has a unique duty to ensure policing services are delivered "in accordance with community values."

He said the board's particular focus would be on policies and police governance changes that might prevent similar incidents in the future.

"A (board of police commissioners) review wouldn't be looking to make findings of criminal wrongdoing, civil liability or disciplinary default, but rather to aid the board to exercise its authority effectively ... to ensure incidents like this don't happen in the future," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2021.