Last week, criminal assault charges were dropped against New Glasgow mayor Nancy Dicks.
In an interview with the Examiner, Chris Hansen, a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, said senior New Glasgow prosecutor, Bill Gorman, decided there was no realistic prospect of conviction.
The charge against Dicks stemmed from a Black Lives Matter event in New Glasgow in September 2020. African Nova Scotian author and poet Angela Bowden said that while sitting down after the event, Dicks approached her, became verbally aggressive before physically grabbing her leg, squeezing it, and saying “Now, you listen here.”
Bowden said she immediately got up and removed herself from the situation. She said there were several witnesses present including Bowden’s mother. Bowden said that earlier in the day at the event, she and Dicks had a verbal disagreement around the organizing and painting of one of the streets.
Bowden detailed her version of events in a vlog post she shared on her Facebook profile in May. In August, Cape Breton Regional Police charged Dicks after investigating the allegations.
Last Monday, the morning the charges against Dicks were dropped, Bowden attended the appeal hearing into Kayla Borden’s complaint against members of Halifax Regional Police as a support person to Borden. Bowden said Bill Gorman made her aware that the charges would be dropped prior to Monday.
“If it came down then — and quite often it comes down to your word and the person you accused — then that’s for the judge to decide,” Bowden said. “Because clearly the police believed me, and believed there was enough evidence because they set the charge.”
“So what I’m disheartened at is that we didn’t even have an opportunity to allow the wheels of justice to move because they stopped it midway.”
“With him just dismissing it, it proves once again that there is no justice for Black people in this province," Bowden said. "It also shows the value we place on Black women and their safety, on their voices, and on their trauma.”
The Examiner made several attempts to contact Gorman and as of publication time, Gorman had not responded to an e-mail. He was also unavailable by phone on several occasions, and a representative in his office said he was busy working on “important cases.”
In between attempts to contact Gorman, Gorman was, in fact, in contact on at least two occasions with Hansen.
“All I can tell you is that the Crown did his job by examining the evidence and considering the [standard prosecutorial] test, doing internal consultation here, and then concluded that there was no realistic prospect of conviction, and therefore was obligated by law to withdraw the charge,” Hansen told the Examiner.
Hansen said that at least part of the internal consultations took place with “the equity and diversity folks.” Though when asked for more insight into that group, Hansen was unable to provide much at all.
“Well that’s our equity and diversity committee — they have expertise in equity and diversity,” she said. “Their involvement was just to provide their perspective.”
Though this was a criminal case, Hansen said the group does not provide legal advice. She was unsure who is in the group, how many members are in the group, or how they were appointed or selected. She said the group is an internal committee made up of members from the African Nova Scotian, Indigenous, and "BIPOC" communities.
“Because Ms. Bowden is African Nova Scotian ... we have an equity and diversity group that makes sure any case that has any kind of race-based legal issue that we consult with them.”
After the interview, the Examiner attempted to contact Gorman again, to get more specific context around the equity and diversity group, at which point we were told he was busy.
It is not clear, nor is it available online what specific credentials the equity and diversity committee has, who determines their level of qualifications, or their selection process. It's unclear whether they advised Gorman not to proceed with the case, or if Gorman dropped the case against their advice.
Angela Bowden said though she is disappointed in Gorman’s decision to drop the charge against Dicks, she’s also not surprised. Still, she feels Gorman made the wrong decision and denied her the chance at justice.
Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Halifax Examiner