Halifax woman speaks out against N.S. police review board decision on rape case

A Halifax woman says she's "very disappointed" in a recent decision by the Nova Scotia Police Review Board following her complaint that Halifax Regional Police mishandled her rape case.

Carrie Low said Halifax police failed to take certain actions, including promptly collecting and analyzing the clothing she was wearing during the assault and searching the scene for evidence. She believes this jeopardized the outcome of an eventual criminal case.

She also said the first officer who spoke to her when she reported the rape from a hospital emergency room didn't treat her in a trauma-informed way.

"I feel, again, extremely harmed by a system that is not there to protect the interests of victims and survivors," Low said in an interview Wednesday, after receiving the decision on Monday.

"To me, through all the legal processes to date that I've been through, this to me has definitely been the most hurtful, retraumatizing experience."

At a two-week hearing in July 2023, Low testified she was taken from a bar in Dartmouth in May 2018 to a trailer in East Preston where she was raped. The next day she went to the hospital for a rape kit, and agreed to report to police.

Const. Bojan Novakovic, who had been with the Halifax Regional Police for four years, was the original responding officer.

Novakovic told the review board he had received trauma-informed training and had spoken with sexual assault survivors previously, but this was the first time he had collected a rape kit or interacted with sexual assault nurse examiners.

Sexual assault nurse examiner Jane Collins testified at the hearing that she interrupted Novakovic's questions to Low because she felt the officer was "revictimizing" Low and asking "blaming" questions. A second nurse examiner, Samantha Sarty, testified she thought the officer was asking a lot of questions about motives, rather than facts, and that she noticed Low begin to cry.

Novakovic disagreed with this characterization. The board accepted Novakovic's evidence in its decision.

Novakovic did not collect Low's clothing at the hospital. RCMP Const. Jerrell Smith, a member of the integrated sexual assault investigation team of the Halifax Regional Police and RCMP who was later assigned to Low's case, also did not pick up the clothes.

Novakovic told the hearing he received a "dressing-down" from his supervisor when the supervisor learned that the clothes had not been retrieved 10 days later. Novakovic said he accepted responsibility for this.

After Low complained, an investigation by HRP into what happened concluded in 2020 that Novakovic should have picked up Low's clothing, and should have spoken to a supervisor about protecting evidence at the scene.

He was docked eight hours pay by HRP as a penalty, which he chose not to appeal. The review board said it would accept written submissions on the penalty, as the board has the option to vary it. His lawyer told CBC Wednesday the officer has no comment on the decision.

Low feels that penalty was not enough, and that HRP as an organization also bears responsibility.

"When we go into the workforce, we're all accountable to somebody," Low said, pointing to the supervisory and quality-control system of the integrated sexual assault investigation unit.

"Initial investigating officers have someone to account to," she said. "It's the whole system that needs to be looked at, and to figure out what the problems are. That has always been my intent. This was the only process that I could do this in, publicly."

The three-person board disagreed with Low's argument, stating, "We find that nothing in the conduct of Halifax Regional Police as a whole warrants intervention by the board."

The board acknowledged what happened to Low was traumatic, but said most of the problems with the investigation were with the RCMP constable, who is outside the jurisdiction of the board.

"We understand completely [Ms. Low's] frustration with the current policy which results in different disciplinary regimes for different police agencies within the province," the board wrote.

'I'm physically exhausted'

Low said Wednesday she is uncertain whether she will appeal.

"I am tired," she said. "These processes bring up recurring trauma over and over again. And I have been living in a state of hypervigilance for six years. My body is tired. I'm physically exhausted."

The Halifax Regional Police told CBC on Wednesday it could not comment on the decision as the review process is "ongoing."

In the final submissions on behalf of Halifax Regional Police, a lawyer for the Halifax Regional Municipality wrote that Low's experience was "not in keeping with best practices or with HRP's goal of reducing victimization." The submission stated HRP is "actively working towards improving its trauma informed approach."