Skip to main content

Final prosecution from 26 charges in 2021 Halifax housing protest ends in acquittal

Police attend a protest after the city removed tents and small shelters for homeless people in Halifax on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (Source: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan) Police attend a protest after the city removed tents and small shelters for homeless people in Halifax on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (Source: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

The last of 26 charges laid after a 2021 Halifax housing protest has ended with an acquittal, capping a two-and-a-half-year legal saga during which just a handful of prosecutions proceeded.

The provincial court found 44-year-old Amanda Rekunyk not guilty Tuesday of obstructing a police officer. The Crown hasn't indicated if it will appeal the verdict.

In his oral decision, Judge Kelly Serbu noted Rekunyk's testimony that she was attempting to return to her car to retrieve her cellphone at the time of her arrest, rather than attempting to block the transfer of a man into a police paddy wagon.

The judge said Rekunyk's testimony asserting she was "in the wrong place at the wrong time" remained "uncontradicted" by the Crown, raising a reasonable doubt of the police allegations.

Rekunyk, who uses both male and female pronouns, said in an interview Wednesday the ruling was the end of a personal ordeal that began with his six-hour detention following the protest outside the former public library in downtown Halifax on Aug. 18, 2021.

During the demonstration, hundreds of people gathered to oppose the removal by city workers of small shelters for homeless people. Police and demonstrators clashed on streets lined with shops and cafes, and some protesters were sprayed in the face with chemical irritants.

Rekunyk said the legal process has been exhausting and has left him with frequent back pains and migraines. "It was about time (for the verdict) ... I shouldn't have even had to be there," the Halifax resident said.

The Canadian Press has tracked the charges the police laid and found that the majority of the cases were dismissed or dropped after the demonstration.

According to a list provided by the Public Prosecution Service, of the 26 charges, 16 were withdrawn or dismissed before they went to trial. Three cases went to restorative justice, which resulted in the charges ultimately being withdrawn.

Of the seven that proceeded to trial, Rekunyk and another person were acquitted, while there were five convictions.

The records provided by the Crown show that a man and a woman were sentenced to probation for performing a public sex act as a protest against police actions, and a 28-year-old woman was convicted of assaulting an officer with a skateboard and was given a conditional discharge and sentenced to probation.

A provincial court judge dismissed a charge of assaulting a police officer laid against a 31-year-old man but found him guilty of obstructing an officer. He was given a conditional discharge, meaning he was required to attend probation but will not retain a criminal record.

A 26-year-old woman was found not guilty of two counts of assaulting an officer but was convicted on another count of assaulting an officer and one count of obstructing an officer. She was given an absolute discharge, meaning she was not put on probation and will not retain a criminal record.

Asaf Rashid, the lawyer who represented Rekunyk and 18 other protesters, said the overall results suggest police went too far in their arrests and laying of charges.

"I've always been of the view from the outset that it was not in the public interest for the prosecutions to have proceeded due to the level of public concern over the homelessness situation," Rashid said in an interview Wednesday.

"I think the public appetite for resources being spent on prosecutions of individuals arrested on that day was quite low to say the least, and I would have liked to have seen it instead directed towards the actual homelessness issue."

William Mathers, the prosecutor who oversaw the prosecutions, said "the vast majority of the charges were withdrawn by me at the front end."

He said it was in the public interest to proceed with the cases that remained. "You have the right to protest but you don't have the right to protest with violence or with public sex acts," he said in an interview.

In a release last year, a Halifax police spokesman said the force believed it had brought "the appropriate charges" based on the investigation and evidence.

However, Halifax's board of police commissioners announced last year it was proceeding with an independent civilian review of how police behaved on the day of the protest.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2024.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page Top Stories

Stay Connected