Police face lawsuit over handling of Halifax sexual assault investigation
Carrie Low talks to media outside court in Halifax, Monday, Sept.16, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Tutton)
HALIFAX -- A Halifax woman launched a lawsuit against the city's police department and the RCMP on Monday, alleging officers falsely labelled her as a lying alcoholic while mishandling her sexual assault case.
In a statement of claim submitted to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Carrie Low repeats an allegation she first made last year: that police failed to visit the scene where the rape is alleged to have happened.
The lawsuit filed by lawyer Michael Dull also alleges police didn't properly handle Low's clothing as evidence and failed to send it for examination in a timely fashion after the May 2018 incident.
"I am proceeding with this lawsuit in the hopes that no other women will have to go through what I have had to endure for the past 20 months," Low, 43, said in an emailed comment.
"I don't feel heroic or brave, I am just trying to seek justice for myself and possibly for other women with similar experiences. Hopefully this will be the catalyst for real change in the way sexual assaults are investigated."
The legal action contains fresh allegations that officers made false assumptions about the Dartmouth, N.S., resident.
"Rather than conduct a meaningful investigation into the plaintiff's sexual assault, the defendants took active steps to close the investigation," says the statement of claim.
"Without evidence, the defendants labelled the plaintiff 'a drunk' and 'a liar' and, for this reason, instructed at least one investigating officer not to investigate the merits of her sexual assault or properly collect evidence pursuant to the standards required of a reasonable, competent policing agency."
The lawsuit alleges that by giving Low this label, police internally classified the plaintiff's allegations as being "unfounded."
The claim has not been proven in court and the two police forces, which operate a joint sexual assault unit in Halifax, have not yet filed statements of defence.
Halifax police Const. John MacLeod said in an email that it would be inappropriate for police to comment on either the criminal investigation or Low's civil suit.
"It is important to reiterate that this is an open and active file that is being thoroughly investigated," MacLeod wrote.
Low has said in interviews that she blacked out through much of the alleged attack, but has had brief and painful recollections of waking to being assaulted.
She also has said she believes she was drugged while having a drink at a neighbourhood pub, but evidence to confirm what was in her blood wasn't immediately sent to a lab for processing.
The statement of claim says within hours of the alleged assault, Low sought care at Dartmouth General Hospital through the emergency room, including blood work for a toxicology examination.
It says she was approached by an officer who began interviewing her about the circumstances of her assault, with her teenage daughter was present at the time.
The hospital room interview was stopped by the sexual assault nurse who protested that the officer was in breach of typical protocols, the statement of claim says.
It is also alleged that Low was told by the constable that an officer would pick up the sealed bag containing her clothing from her residence that evening, but that didn't occur.
"On May 29, 2018, the plaintiff called and spoke with the supervising officer about her concerns that her clothing had not been collected. Later that evening, 10 days after reporting the sexual assault, the defendants collected the plaintiff's sealed bag of clothing," the statement of claim says.
It adds that between May and September 2018, Low received no updates from police. She subsequently attended two interviews with the sexual assault investigative team.
Last year, the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner declined to refer Low's case for a hearing, saying the alleged police misconduct occurred more than six months before she brought forward her complaint.
Lawyers with the Elizabeth Fry Society are now attempting to have the complaints commissioner's decision against Low reversed and to have her complaint against police processed.
That case is expected back in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on March 3.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2020.