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Nova Scotians will soon have a year to file a complaint against police

Justice Minister Mark Furey arrives at a news conference to provide details about cannabis legalization in Halifax on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.
Justice Minister Mark Furey arrives at a news conference to provide details about cannabis legalization in Halifax on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan

Nova Scotians will soon have a year to file a complaint against municipal police officers.

The provincial government confirmed on Wednesday that it will be introducing changes to the Nova Scotia Police Act that will extend the timeframe for someone to file a complaint from six months to a year.

The changes will come into effect on Jan. 15, 2021, with the provincial government saying that the change will ensure the “province’s justice system is more responsive to the needs of Nova Scotians.”

The changes will also grant the province’s police complaint commissioner the ability to extend the 12-month timeframe “if there are good reasons for doing so and it is not contrary to the public interest.”

READ MORE: Sexual assault survivor files lawsuit against Halifax police and RCMP

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Nova Scotia says the change will bring the province in line with the legislation governing the RCMP.

“This change directly responds to a need that was identified by the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner, the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners and Prof. Scot Wortley in his 2019 Halifax Street Checks report,” said Mark Furey, Nova Scotia’s attorney general and justice minister.

“We know that sometimes people, and often victims, require more time to decide if they want to bring a concern forward.

“This timeframe offers people greater flexibility.”

Furey also alluded to the case of Carrie Low in his statement. In 2019, Low filed a complaint that police had mishandled her case.

Her affidavit to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court said a toxicology report had not been conducted “as of one year following the sexual assault.”

But in mid-2019, Low received a letter from Nova Scotia’s Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner notifying her that her case wouldn’t be reviewed because it wasn’t made within the six-month time limit.

Low is now working with the Elizabeth Fry Society to argue that under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Nova Scotia regulation should be struck down as unconstitutional.

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Lawsuit against HRP and RCMP highlights concerns about reporting sexual violence
Lawsuit against HRP and RCMP highlights concerns about reporting sexual violence

In a separate but related court case, Low filed a lawsuit against Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP earlier this week, alleging that the sexual assault investigative team, an integrated unit comprised of officers from both forces, conducted a negligent and discriminatory investigation into her sexual assault.

According to Low’s lawyers, Mike Dull and Emma Halpern with the Elizabeth Fry Society, the decision to file a civil suit came after the original investigator on the case came forward with allegations that there weren’t simply errors in the investigation, but there was a conscious effort to curb it.

“He was told that [Low] was a liar and a drunk and he should not be wasting police resources to pursue her case,” Halpern told Global News earlier this week.

READ MORE: Longer time to make complaint against police ‘reasonable,’ N.S. attorney general says

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The claims have not been proven in court. A court date for Low’s challenge to have her complaint against police processed has been set for March 3 in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

The change to the timeframe to file a complaint was welcomed by Judith McPhee, Nova Scotia’s police complaints commissioner, on Wednesday.

“Increasing the time to file a complaint to one year is a positive change and one that I think will be welcomed by the public. While most complaints come in soon after the interaction with the police, there are times when this is not possible,” said McPhee.

“Having more time to submit a complaint will help someone make the decision that is right for them.”

In 2018, the police complaints commissioner received 197 complaints.