Woman says officer who accused her of assault kicked her during N.S. housing protest

·4 min read

HALIFAX — A woman accused of assaulting police during a housing protest in Halifax has denied intentionally kicking two constables, saying she was avoiding "kicks and stomps" from landing on her.

Natasha Danais testified Wednesday during her trial on one charge of obstruction and three charges of assaulting police during the Aug. 18, 2021, protest.

The 26-year-old told Halifax provincial court Judge Kelly Serbu that when she went through a police line and landed on her back, she was fearful of the heavy-set Halifax officer she'd just been face-to-face with — Const. Chris DeLong.

She testified that the constable had earlier grabbed her by the throat and had kicked her at least three times.

"It wasn't the first time I'd ended up on the ground in front of him, and he'd been kicking and stomping on me and I assumed it was going to be the same thing," she testified.

She said she moved her legs in a bicycle motion as she lay on her back, "just trying to prevent myself from being hurt any more," as several officers arrested her and pulled her away.

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.

Const. Conor Gillam testified Tuesday that Danais had pulled off his medical mask, and constables Brian Palmeter and DeLong told the court she kicked them while she was lying on her back after toppling through the police line.

In Tuesday's testimony, DeLong denied kicking Danais while he faced her on the line, testifying that he was raising his leg in self defence. "If I had wanted to kick her it would have looked different than that,'' DeLong said under cross-examination.

Danais told the court she went to the protest shortly after 10:30 a.m. because she'd heard police would be at the sites of the homeless shelters as they were being torn down. She said it was upsetting to her because she believed the people living in the sheds had nowhere else to go.

"I felt it was important (to attend) as I had been homeless a few months prior," Danais said.

Danais was shown portions of a video prepared depicting the tense showdown between protesters and police, but had a different perspective on it from that of the officers who testified Tuesday.

"(DeLong) was kicking me, also pushed me by the throat. He was standing in front of me with a mask and not responding when I asked him for his name or badge number," she testified.

Later in her testimony, defence lawyer Asaf Rashid submitted a series of photographs that Danais took of herself in the police lockup and on the days following, showing bruising on her legs, chest, neck and ankles.

Danais said when she was arrested she told officers she didn't want to go into a paddy wagon until she'd had a chance to learn the name of the officer who had "assaulted" her. She told the court she only learned DeLong's name later, as she laid complaints against the police and her trial unfolded.

"As I was being taken away I was screaming, ‘What’s his name?’" she testified.

Emilie Black, who also attended the protest to demonstrate against the shelter removals, testified that she was next to Danais as police pushed the demonstrators back.

"I remember the officers grabbing Natasha and then seeing Natasha on the ground," she testified.

Rashid is arguing for a stay of proceedings based on police treatment of his client during and following her arrest, saying she wasn't given proper access to legal advice and her Charter rights were violated.

The trial ended Wednesday afternoon with closing submissions from the Crown and defence, with the judge reserving his decision until August.

Late Wednesday, Halifax’s board of police commissioners announced it has commissioned an independent civilian review of the police response to the 2021 protest.

The board said in a news release it has retained a Toronto law firm to examine "the role and involvement of Halifax Regional Police in the eviction of unhoused and underhoused individuals and in its handling of the related protests."

The review is scheduled to begin on June 1 and a public report with findings and recommendations is set to be completed May 31, 2024.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2023.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press