Human rights inquiry hears accusations of racism against Halifax police officers

·5 min read

A human rights board of inquiry heard two clashing versions Friday of a man's interaction with Halifax Regional Police that started with jaywalking and led to accusations of discrimination.

Gyasi Symonds, who is Black, alleges he was the victim of racism when police went to his office building and issued him a ticket for jaywalking. The incident happened nearly four years ago, on Jan. 24, 2017.

The hearing has been at times tense and emotional, with Symonds accusing the two police officers involved of lying during their testimony.

On the day in question, Symonds left his work at an office building on Gottingen Street and went to get a cup of coffee at a café across the street. He admitted he crossed illegally to get to the coffee shop, and said four white people did the same, just steps ahead of him.

Two Halifax Regional Police officers saw Symonds cross and testified that a white van had to stop to avoid hitting him. Constables Steve Logan and Pierre-Paul Cadieux said they warned Symonds not to do it again and tried to educate him about being a safe pedestrian.

Symonds said he went to the crosswalk to return to work with his coffee.

But the officers disputed that story Friday, saying they witnessed Symonds crossing illegally again — this time causing a Halifax Transit bus to stop abruptly. Passengers standing inside were "thrown" by the sudden movement, the board of inquiry heard.

Officers were demanding, rude: witness

The officers testified they went into Symonds's office building to issue him a ticket. That's where they spoke with Carolyn Brodie, the commissionaire on duty in the lobby.

Brodie told the hearing that police came in looking for a Black man in a tuque. She wouldn't give them access to the restricted areas of the office building to find him.

Brodie, who is also Black, said she felt shaken by the officers' tone and demeanour, which she described as demanding and rude.

"I did not understand the behaviour of the police officers at all," she said.

Brodie said she wondered if the police were responding to a serious crime, like a robbery, and asked what they were investigating.

The officers replied they were investigating jaywalking. "We're just trying to save his life," said one of the officers, according to Brodie's testimony.

'I never had them treat me like that'

Brodie said it didn't make sense, as people are constantly jaywalking in the area.

During their interaction, she said Cadieux followed her into the reception area of the provincial Department of Community Services, where she went to speak with a supervisor. She described the constable as being "not in control."

Brodie testified she deals with police on a regular basis in the building, but told the hearing: "I never had them treat me like that."

When Symonds came downstairs to the lobby, Brodie said she watched as one officer kept his hand near his gun. She described Symonds as calm and collected, and he didn't raise his voice.

"It was very impressive because I wanted to raise mine," she said.

Officers dispute accusations

The officers gave a different version of the events during their testimonies.

Logan said once inside the office building, Brodie showed them surveillance footage that helped them identify Symonds. He said they made small talk with the two commissionaires on duty in the lobby until Symonds came downstairs.

During questioning, Cadieux said it was possible he may have followed Brodie to the other reception area.

Both officers testified Symonds wouldn't tell them his name until Cadieux said he could be arrested. Symonds went to get his identification and came back with a phone to record the incident, said Logan.

The officers described Symonds as being vocal, but not a threat.

Not unusual to rest arm on gun, says officer

Logan made a call to check Symonds's background, which was standard practice, he said.

He admitted he would have had his hand on or near his gun, but testified that's not out of the ordinary.

"I always have my arm resting on it," he said.

Cadieux also said he may have had his hand on his gun because the belts are heavy and uncomfortable.

He issued Symonds a summary offence ticket for jaywalking. It was just one of two tickets he has issued for the offence. Logan has never issued one.

After the interaction, Cadieux called his supervisor, who told them to immediately take detailed notes about what happened.

Cadieux said he was nervous because he was still on probation. Logan and Cadieux had only been with Halifax Regional Police for a few months, but each had careers before joining the force. Logan had been with the military police and RCMP, while Cadieux had served in the Navy.

They both said they had received diversity training for their job. Neither have faced any other accusations of discrimination.

Symonds represents himself

A repeated thread throughout the day was Symonds's lack of representation at the hearing.

He pointed out multiple times that he was at a disadvantage, having to address lawyers representing the city and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. He struggled to follow the rules of the proceedings.

The chair of the inquiry, Benjamin Perryman, said he was giving Symonds a lot of leeway with his questioning because he did not have a lawyer. However, at one point, Perryman cut Symonds off when the man bluntly started telling Cadieux he was racist and lying.

"This has moved past the point of civility," said Perryman.

The hearing is expected to resume Tuesday, with Symonds concluding his questioning of Cadieux. Closing submissions are expected that afternoon.

MORE TOP STORIES