HALIFAX — A woman arrested during a housing protest two years ago in Halifax has been found not guilty of two of four charges after being accused of assaulting three police officers.
Natasha Angelique Danais was acquitted Tuesday of assault against two police officers, but she was found guilty of obstruction and of an assault charge related to pulling a medical mask off another officer.
At trial in May, Danais denied intentionally kicking two constables during the Aug. 18, 2021 protest, saying she was avoiding “kicks and stomps” from landing on her. She also told the court that she had moved her legs in a bicycle motion as she lay on her back in order to prevent herself from being hurt.
At the time, municipal workers were attempting to remove a shelter for homeless people in front of the former Halifax public library, and Danais was among the demonstrators Halifax police were pushing out of the way.
In finding Danais not guilty of assaulting officers Chris DeLong and Brian Palmeter, provincial court Judge Kelly Serbu noted that what began as a peaceful protest “morphed into anything but one.”
“I can only describe what I saw and heard as chaotic and mayhem,” Serbu said, referring to video evidence and testimony.
The judge said that based on the evidence, Danais had ended up on her back and was in a “very vulnerable position.” With many people around her, she feared being stepped on.
“Any contact she may have made with either officer was not intentional and was the result of her trying to protect herself,” Serbu ruled.
Danais, who now lives in British Columbia, took part in Tuesday’s court proceeding by video link and is scheduled to return to court Jan. 10 for sentencing.
Her lawyer, Asaf Rashid, said in an interview Wednesday that it’s too early to say whether there will be an appeal in the case.
Rashid had argued for a stay of proceedings based on his client’s treatment by police during and following her arrest, saying she wasn't given proper access to legal advice and her Charter rights were violated.
“I didn’t think it was in the public interest for any of the charges to proceed because of the social context of the housing and homelessness crisis,” said Rashid. “In the end it’s up to the judge, of course, and he made the ruling that he did. I think overall, there’s still a lot of dust to be settled as far as reviewing it.”
In dismissing the Charter application, Serbu concluded that police did not use excessive force in dealing with Danais, and he said delays in giving her access to a lawyer were not surprising given the initial delays in getting her to the police lockup because of a protest that had turned violent.
He also noted that police were trying to process 23 people who had been arrested.
Halifax's board of police commissioners has ordered an independent civilian review of the police response to the 2021 protest. A Toronto law firm is expected to release a public report with findings and recommendations by next May.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press