Trial begins for protester arrested during homeless encampment removal
A trial began Tuesday for a 26-year-old protester who was among a group of almost two dozen people arrested in August 2021 over the removal of tents and shelters for homeless people in Halifax.
Natasha Danais is facing one count of obstructing police and three counts of assaulting police. Danais's lawyer, Asaf Rashid, is also representing three other people who are also scheduled to be tried on charges related to the protest.
"They all happened during the same set of events, where there was a crowd of people who showed up to express opposition to the forced removal of people living in encampments at the old Memorial Library park site," he said.
During the protest, hundreds of people gathered on Spring Garden Road in downtown Halifax to block the shelter removals. Police used pepper spray, and paramedics treated at least 21 people at the scene.
Rashid initially represented 19 of the people who were charged in the protest.
Besides Danais and the three remaining trials, one case was sent to restorative justice and the other charges were dropped. Rashid said the remaining three trials are scheduled for later this year.
Three officers testified Tuesday they were near Danais when protesters and police pushed against each other.
The Crown showed video of the two lines shouting and shoving, and the officers identified Danais as a person who fell to the ground behind the police line.
Const. Conor Gillam testified that when the lines were facing off, Danais ripped off his COVID-19 mask. Shortly after that he saw Danais on the ground kicking out, although he said the kicks did not connect with his body. He arrested and handcuffed Danais.
Sgt. Brian Palmeter said Danais kicked him three times in the left knee and once in the right leg, which he said put him off duty the next day as the kick aggravated an old injury.
Const. Christopher Delong said he was shouted at, spit on and kicked multiple times during the day. He said he was left with a bruise on his upper thigh, and testified about seeing a person who he identified as Danais "kicking wildly."
He added he thought Danais was trying to kick him in the groin.
Delong added that Danais also filed a professional standards complaint against him, alleging that he pushed and kicked Danais.
Complaint about police action
There has been much discussion about what happened when police and protesters clashed on Aug. 18, 2021 over the removal of the shelters, which were designed for homeless people.
In late September 2021, a formal complaint was filed against the Halifax Regional Police, which appears to be about how officers acted during the day of the shelter removal.
CBC obtained a copy of the decision on the complaint through access to information laws.
The decision, made by Chief Dan Kinsella, describes a large, violent protest where pepper spray and batons were used, objects were thrown at police, and some officers were injured.
The decision also describes how Halifax police investigators looked into the complaint, and the reasons the chief said the complaint should not be sustained.
The decision document was released to CBC as part of a package of other public complaint decisions. The name of the person who made the complaint was blacked out.
The document is heavily redacted and doesn't state the date or location of the protest. Many sections are blacked out, including the specific allegations in the complaint. However the circumstances in the decision match aspects of the shelter protest.
Concern for officer safety
The complaint decision document shows HRP investigators gathered various types of evidence, including interviews with officers, video footage, police radio communications and call history.
The document shows officers considered various options, stating in one section: "Discussed with [redacted] option of leaving site, pros and cons, believed we had sufficient resources to complete the task."
It states that some officers were injured and went to hospital after being punched or head-butted, and that the crowd ignored commands to move back and hurled objects at the police.
The document also details various concerns about safety, including a 911 call stating protesters had guns. It's unclear from the document whether there was other evidence about guns, but it states police had "concern regarding retaining police weapons … also concern for our police vehicles and removal of weapons in police vehicles."
The document states that officers used pepper spray on the protesters, but also that "officers were pepper sprayed by protestors."
Other concerns listed in the document include "protestors observed putting rocks in their pockets (threat to officers)" and "unknown persons urinating on the bags" of officers' protective gear.
In April 2022, Kinsella ruled that after reviewing the evidence he could not sustain any of the allegations in the complaint.
He wrote of the "assaultive behaviour" by many in the crowd and said that some officers were the victims of criminal offences.
"This included threats, pushing and shoving, attempts to drag an officer into the crowd, officers being thrown to the ground, and many attempts to obstruct police from their lawful duties," he wrote.
"If not for the complexity of the situation many more individuals could also have been charged."
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