What started as a typical family outing for George Fagan and his young daughter quickly devolved into tears and chaos Wednesday.
Fagan’s 10-year-old daughter, Lennita, was pepper sprayed by a Halifax Regional Police officer during a protest against the forcible removal of an encampment being used by people without homes.
“I was scared, I was terrified because I didn’t know what was going on,” Lennita told Global News.
“That was the scariest day of my life.”
The pair weren’t even participating in the protest in the first place, according to Fagan.
They took the ferry from Dartmouth, as they often do during the summer months, and were on their way to get some drinks at Tim Hortons and go for a walk in the Public Gardens.
“My plan was to go to the park, where I go all the time,” he said. “I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The protest seemed peaceful when they arrived, but the crowd began to get agitated after police arrested one man who was sitting on top of a shelter they were trying to remove.
Sensing a change in tone, Fagan decided to get out of there with his daughter. But one of the streets was completely blocked with people, so they tried a different route — one that led them to where police, decked out in riot gear, were cracking down on the demonstrators.
At one point, an officer shoved Lennita. They were briefly separated, then suddenly Fagan heard someone shouting that a child had been pepper sprayed.
“I lost my sh-t. I think any parent would have lost their sh-t,” he said.
“What, is my kid a threat? My kid is now a threat to the community? My 10-year-old child is a threat?”
‘It burned really bad’
In a video posted to social media by Halifax Examiner reporter Zane Woodford, Fagan could be heard shouting, “You maced my kid, you maced a f–ing 10-year-old.”
As he rushed to his daughter, Fagan was pepper sprayed too.
It was an upsetting development for him and Lennita, who were trying to enjoy their day together.
“We were going to do what we do together, as a father and daughter,” he said. “Apparently, we got maced together as a father and daughter.
“Well, there’s one off the bucket list,” he added sarcastically.
The two of them were treated at the scene by paramedics.
Fagan said they are now feeling better, but Wednesday he lost vision for a bit and both of them felt like they had “an extreme, bad sunburn” where the pepper spray made contact with their skin.
Lennita said the encounter was painful.
“It felt like an onion going in my eye, because it burned really bad,” the 10-year-old recalled.
During a media availability Thursday afternoon, Halifax Regional Police chief Dan Kinsella clarified that the irritant used was not mace, but what’s known as OC spray, or pepper spray.
He said the irritant was deployed because officers were dealing with what he described as an “assaultive” crowd.
“Officers at the scene were faced with many complexities and the deployment of the sensory irritant is on the scale of use-of-force options that are available, just below certain things that are much more intrusive and could potentially cause further injury to people,” he said.
Kinsella, who wasn’t at the scene at the time, said the wind can carry pepper spray in the air, resulting in a less concentrated application. He said he believes the use of force was appropriate but said the situation will be looked at through an operational debrief.
Fagan, however, isn’t satisfied. He said he wants to see some consequences for the officer involved.
“I don’t even want an apology. I want him to lose his job,” he said. “I’m not letting this go. This was wrong.”
Fagan and his daughter returned to the Public Gardens on Thursday to finish their planned outing.
“She’s tough,” he said.
Meanwhile, more than $30,000 has been raised for the people who have been fined or detained as a result of Wednesday’s protest, surpassing the original goal of $10,000.
According to the fundraiser’s organizer, many people have been fined, but with the money raised the cost of fines or bail can be paid, if needed.
A total of 24 people were arrested, according to Kinsella.
The fundraiser’s page states that everyone who was arrested was released from police custody as of 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“Many have been charged for allegedly assaulting officers. A lot of these folks will not qualify for legal aid and will need monetary support for legal fees,” the page reads.
This is why funds will go directly to paying these legal fees.
The campaign has also been kept open to using the additional funds to help people who were displaced by Wednesday’s evictions.
— with files from Aya Al-Hakim.