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  • Writer's pictureShaina Luck

Carrie Low's police complaint is in public interest to be reheard, lawyer says

The lawyer for a woman who is trying to have her complaint against Halifax Regional Police reheard argued in Nova Scotia Supreme Court Tuesday that Carrie Low's case is about far more than one botched investigation.

In May 2019, Low complained to the independent Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner that Halifax Regional Police failed to properly investigate a rape committed against her in May 2018.

Low discovered over the year following the rape that police had not processed her toxicology report or rape kit, and not visited the scene of the crime.

The commissioner, Judith McPhee, dismissed Low's complaint that the police in general had failed to investigate properly. McPhee told Low her complaint was outside the six-month time limit laid down in the Police Act.

Low and her lawyer, Jessica Rose, have gone to court for a judicial review of that decision. Low is receiving support from the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia.

On Tuesday, Low's team appeared in a Halifax courtroom to ask Justice Ann Smith to quash McPhee's first decision and order her to investigate the complaint.

Rose said the ultimate goal for Low and her supporters is "a functional, accountable police complaints system."

Rose argued that due to the way police investigate, there may be no way for a citizen to know when an investigation has failed or police have been negligent.

Rose said that is why the six-month limit must apply not to the date when Low first complained to police, but to the date when Low discovered police had failed her.

Rose argued those failures were "ongoing" and "cumulative" with every day the police did not take steps such as processing Low's toxicology report or visiting the scene.

Rose argued the legislation for police complaints is meant to serve the public interest. She said the complaints commissioner exists to be an independent check on police powers and to improve police relationships with communities in the province.

Sheldon Choo, the lawyer representing the police complaints commissioner and Nova Scotia's attorney general, argued the problems listed in Low's complaint to the commissioner are largely about things that happened in May 2018, which is when the rape occurred.

Choo pointed to the language of the Police Act, which says the commissioner "must not" process a complaint outside the six-month window.

"The complaint still needs to be grounded in some sort of time frame or purpose. Otherwise, it would frustrate the purpose of having a six-month time period," Choo told the court.

Choo acknowledged that some of the elements in Low's complaint dated to April 2019, which is when she learned police had not processed her toxicology report. This was one month before she filed her complaint.

Rose argued to the judge that Low's case should be seen in a "social context" where it's important to maintain a high level of public confidence in institutions such as police.

"At a moment when there is low public confidence in the police, it is that much more important," Rose said.

Smith has reserved her decision until a later date.

Legislative changes

In January, the province announced it will change the Police Act to extend the time limit for someone to file a complaint against a municipal service from six months to one year.

The new legislation will also give the independent police complaints commissioner the authority to extend the time frame to more than one year if there's a public interest in doing so.

The legislation is not retroactive and will not apply to Low's case.

The law already gives citizens a 12-month time period to file complaints against the RCMP.

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