Blacks 'don't feel at home' in N.S. courts, says Lyle Howe after sex case dropped
Published Thursday, February 18, 2016 10:55AM AST Last Updated Thursday, February 18, 2016 7:27PM AST
HALIFAX -- A Halifax lawyer questioned the racial fairness of Nova Scotia's legal system after a sex assault case against him ended Thursday with the charge being formally withdrawn.
Lyle Howe, who was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman in 2011, was originally found guilty by a jury in May 2014.
Howe spent two weeks in custody after being sentenced to three years in jail in July, 2014.
His conviction was overturned on appeal last fall and a new trial was ordered.
"My family and I went through hell," Howe said outside Nova Scotia Supreme Court following a short hearing.
"I feel a bit of a weight lifted off but to be quite frank there is still a weight there that shouldn't be there."
Howe was critical of a legal process that saw "zero African-Nova Scotian" jurors in his case -- the lone black juror was an international student -- and he added that he had "huge issues" with a system that has a lack of black judges.
He said it appears little had changed in the decades since the Donald Marshall inquiry found systemic racism in the province's legal system.
"As a black person coming into this building (court) . . . I don't feel at home," said Howe. "We should feel that when we step into the court that we are actually getting a fair shake equal to what a white person would and I don't feel that way."
The province's justice minister, Diana Whelan, would not comment on the specific case but said she is part of an access to justice committee that is trying to address racism by encouraging indigenous and black lawyers to become judges.
"It is one of the issues we look at -- about how to have a system that is fair and has no discrimination," she said. "We look for diversity in the list of candidates that we have for any positions on the bench."
Crown attorney Dan Rideout said the decision not to proceed with another trial was made out of respect for the wishes of the complainant and that without her testimony there was no realistic prospect of a conviction.
"We had considered the unique nature of the case including several days of gruelling testimony that she had to go through the first time as well as other things that would have impacted and influenced her decision," said Rideout.
Howe disputed the Crown's reasoning, saying it could have compelled the complainant to testify and didn't because "there was no case."
During the original trial, the young woman testified that she was impaired and did not consent to sex with Howe at her Halifax apartment.
Howe argued that the sex was consensual, and the appeal court ruled that the trial judge should have instructed Howe's jury to consider the defence of honest but mistaken belief in consent.
The complainant's name is under a publication ban, but was posted on Facebook by a supporter of Howe. David Winslow Sparks, 62, was fined $1,950 and sentenced to a year's probation for breaking the ban last March.