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N.S. police to review drink-tampering response as another woman comes forward
Published Thursday, August 2, 2018 8:59AM ADT Last Updated Thursday, August 2, 2018 12:10PM ADT
An alcoholic beverage is seen in a drinking establishment in Halifax on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. (CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
HALIFAX -- The last thing she remembers is buying a drink. Hours later she was found unconscious, alone on a dark sidewalk.
The 19-year-old has spent weeks trying to piece together what happened after a night out with friends, another suspected case of drinking tampering in downtown Halifax.
As the university town readies for an influx of students this fall, police are grappling with how to respond to a recent rash of drink spiking incidents.
The Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police drug committee, which includes officials from the Department of Justice, the medical examiner's office, the public prosecution service, police, EHS and fire, has added the issue to its agenda at an upcoming meeting on Aug. 16.
Halifax RCMP Chief Supt. Lee Bergerman says a closer look is warranted even if it's premature to call it a trend.
"I think it's a topic that we should at least discuss," she says. "I do think that drug and drink tampering is underreported. I think it happens probably a lot more and people mistake it for being grossly intoxicated."
The 19-year-old woman, who spoke with The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity, says a rough timeline of the Saturday night in mid-July has emerged after talking with friends.
But there are still significant gaps, leaving her feeling anxious and scared about what may have occurred.
"I didn't feel like I got raped or assaulted in any way," says the university student. "But I just keep thinking about people's intentions when they drug you."
She was woken up by her mother at 4 p.m. the next day. She couldn't remember how she got home.
"I didn't wake up the entire day, which is very unlike me," she says. "I purposely didn't drink a lot the night before because I knew I had to work but I couldn't remember anything."
Things got stranger when she checked her phone and noticed six missed calls from an unknown number. She texted back.
"He told me that him and a friend had found me completely unconscious on the sidewalk outside of Durty Nellys (bar) at 6:30 a.m.," she says. "I had absolutely no recollection of anything this guy was telling me."
Her last memory was buying a drink at The Toothy Moose, a late-night cabaret near Durty Nellys on Halifax's popular Argyle Street. She can't remember anything from that point on, but her friends say she was acting normally.
"They said I seemed completely fine. I seemed like myself," she says.
They told her that she went with them to pizza corner, a local staple for late-night fare. But while her friends were buying pizza, they say she went to join another group of friends outside. By the time they were done eating, she was gone.
It's unclear what happened next, but hours later she was found by two strangers who managed to wake her up long enough to get her address and drive her home.
"My situation could have been a hundred times worse, someone could have done anything to me," she says. "Those guys were so nice, I was really lucky."
The 19-year-old went to work the next day but says she felt increasingly nauseous and "spacey."
"It wasn't a hungover feeling, I just felt really weird. I went to the bathroom and that's when I just couldn't stop throwing up."
She had only had a few drinks the night before over several hours, and had eaten a large meal before going downtown.
"That's when I realized I must have been drugged."
Earlier this year, two women told The Canadian Press they were slipped an unidentified substance at The Toothy Moose. As well, women have complained in other media reports about alleged tamperings at other Halifax bars.
Owners of The Toothy Moose did not respond to requests for comment.
The 19-year-old says she never reported the incident to police.
She says she didn't realize what had happened right away, and it took her days to recover. By then, she just figured she had been spared a worse fate, and wanted to move on with her life.
But an RCMP crime analyst is encouraging people who suspect they have been drugged to report it to police.
Sheila Serfas says police can't investigate something if it's not reported.
"You can't track what you don't know," she says. "We can't target enforcement based on anecdotal information that is not reported to the police."
Serfas says if someone suspects they may have been drugged, it can be reported as unusual or suspicious behaviour.
She says if police were to receive multiple reports of suspected drink tampering from the same bar, they could identify trends and review security footage or send in plain clothes officers on busy nights.
"I would encourage them to report it to police ... Maybe they could prevent somebody else from actually being raped."
Halifax police spokesman Const. John MacLeod says the force follows up on every complaint it receives, and encourages people to come forward if they or someone they know has been a victim of drink tampering.
However, The Canadian Press revealed in June that Halifax Regional Police doesn't track drink tampering and is unable to provide data on the number of incidents in recent years.
Statistics Canada was also unable to provide drink spiking data. While the federal agency has the category of "administering a noxious thing," a spokeswoman said it is wrapped into the broader category of "other assaults."
The lack of available data has potentially let the issue of drink tampering fall under the radar.
Yet the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police drug committee drug committee could change that as it reviews the issue later this month.
Any recommended actions would be presented at the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association conference Sept. 13 and 14.
"With the school year coming up and with this being a big university town, it would certainly be prudent ... to highlight what types of things could happen" and encourage people to report suspicious behaviour, Serfas says.