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N.S. woman says sex assault charge shouldn’t stall probe of police conduct

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New charges in high-profile sexual assault case
A man has been charged in connection with a high-profile sexual assault case that dates back to 2018. The alleged victim is Carrie Low, who has been outspoken about how police have handled the investigation. Alicia Draus reports – Feb 3, 2022

A Halifax woman who alleges investigators mishandled her sexual assault case says a charge laid this week shouldn’t delay probes into police conduct.

Carrie Low said in an interview Friday she recently received an email from the city’s lawyer — one day after learning of the charge — indicating the new criminal prosecution means a freeze on the release of documents relevant to her lawsuit against police forces and a police complaints process.

The sexual assault charge announced Thursday against 33-year-old Brent Alexander Julien is the second criminal prosecution in her nearly four year-old case.

Last year, Halifax police charged Alexander Thomas of East Preston, N.S., but before his trial began Thomas was found dead in what police said was a homicide.

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Low said she is hopeful police have a strong case against Julien, but she worries about a possible delay in her other proceedings.

“Yes, there was an arrest. Yes, I would like to have some kind of justice. However, I don’t think I will ever get justice,” she told The Canadian Press.

“We’re in the fourth year of this case. I was moving forward to bring these systemic failures to a head with the police review board hearing and the civil case, and that’s now again being taken from me.”

Low has alleged that on May 18, 2018 she was forcibly confined and raped by two men on the outskirts of the city while she passed in and out of consciousness.

The 45-year-old woman — who sought and received a court order permitting the use of her name — has said there was an improper “pattern of conduct” by the Halifax regional police and the RCMP in the investigation of her case. Among a number of alleged policing failures, she has said members of their joint sexual assault investigation team didn’t visit the scene and were slow to have her clothing and blood tests processed.

Delays have long been a feature of Low’s complaints about the handling of her case.

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She has alleged that when she inquired about her rape kit in March of 2019 — 10 months after the alleged assault — she learned it hadn’t been processed. She also has said she received confusing and contradictory messages on the progress of her case from various officers on the sexual assault investigation team.

Low fought before the courts to have her allegations examined by the Office of Police Complaints Commissioner, after her complaint was initially dropped for being submitted too late. The refusal to hear her case was overturned by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

The timing of that police complaints process could again be changed, said lawyer Emma Halpern, director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia.

Halpern, who is assisting Low in her civil case, said the “investigative privilege” being cited by the city’s lawyer — essentially an argument that disclosure about police conduct would compromise the prosecution — is unreasonable. “It’s questionable this new arrest should put every other legal process on hold,” Halpern said.

“Are we looking at a decade before we get to a police review board hearing? What does that say about how citizens can use existing police oversight processes to achieve justice?”

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A spokeswoman for the Halifax Regional Municipality said comment could not be provided Friday.

Low’s lawyers had hoped the trial of Thomas scheduled for last year would help get to the bottom of what happened to her case. Thomas’s defence lawyer, Mark Bailey, had been planning to call pretrial testimony from the initial RCMP investigator, who he anticipated would allege police conduct was so flawed that his client’s constitutional right to a fair trial had been breached.

In his summarizing brief, which is not sworn testimony, Bailey said Const. Jerrell Smith — the initial RCMP investigator with the sexual assault team — had encountered resistance from his superiors in pursuing the case.

The brief anticipated Smith would testify that police erred by allowing Low to store the clothing she had worn the night of the assault at her parents’ home for weeks. The brief also alleges that it “came to Const. Smith’s attention” that another officer had his initial reports as the investigation shifted focus to a new suspect.

Low said the continuing delays are exhausting, but she will keep going. “I want to change things for the better for victims and survivors of violent crime,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2022.

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