Sara Micheal is speaking out about her experience with King’s District RCMP and Wolfville Mayor Wendy Donovan following an incident that left her with visible injuries and during which she said she was verbally attacked with racial remarks.
In an interview with the Halifax Examiner, Micheal, who is a permanent resident from Eritrea, said she moved out of an apartment where she experienced a lot of racism from the landlord, and into a house with more than half a dozen other roommates she didn’t know.
Micheal said she didn’t expect a college town to be quiet all of the time, especially on weekends, but in the early hours of Saturday, January 8, one roommate, a woman, was making noise by stomping around in the hallway and talking loudly.
“So, I asked her, ‘Can you please keep it down a bit?’” Micheal recalled. “And she reacted by initially telling me she didn’t really care if it was two or five AM. And then she started to walk towards me. I wasn’t really sure what she was trying to do to be honest because I had just woke up at that point.”
“She ended up walking towards me to the point that she was like nose-to-nose, face-to-face, and she started to sort of (body) check me. So after that, I ended up like pushing her off of me, because I asked her, like, to get out of my face, and she wouldn’t. At that point, I didn’t even know what she was saying anymore.”
“Her face was ridiculously close to mine. She was not willing to get off of me, so I pushed her off of me. And then that’s when it escalated because she tried to grab me by the neck, and that’s how I ended up with scratch marks on my neck.”
Micheal said she had to punch the roommate a few times to get her off her person. She said that’s when the incident escalated to racial remarks.
At that point, another roommate who was friends with the woman intervened.
“She got in between us,” Micheal said. “At first it seemed like she was trying to break up the fight, but then she tried to justify what her friend tried to do, saying things like ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have pushed her,’ and she kept framing it as a fight even though this girl tried to assault me.”
She said the roommate then tried to downplay the racial remarks by saying that she had been with three Black men.
Micheal ended up moving out later that day
Meeting with the RCMP
Micheal said she had reason to believe that her attacker called the police and lied about what happened. She feared that it could impact her permanent residency status and Canadian citizenship application.
The next day, accompanied by a friend — another African woman — Micheal went to the King’s District RCMP station to tell her side of the story and file a report for the assault. She said what happened next left her even more devastated.
“We went to the police station in Wolfville, the officer opened the door, he immediately dismissed us, [and] said that I was just ‘playing victim,’” Micheal said. “He was just talking to us like us being African means that we don’t understand laws.”
Micheal said the officer was dismissive, kept cutting them off as they spoke, and talked down to them.
“When I commented that I was sick of this town he replied with, ‘You’re welcome to leave if you don’t like how we do things here.’”
“I personally didn’t go [to the police] immediately because I didn’t think the police were going to help out. They watched a confederate flag fly in front of a Tim Hortons on Main [Street] for months before they finally did something about it,” she said.
Since moving to Wolfville, Micheal said she’s witnessed and experienced racism at Acadia University, in the workplace, at parties where white students would randomly shout out the n-word, an incident outside her work where an older white man followed and yelled at a young Black girl leaving the girl in tears, from immigration agents, from her previous landlord, and at that situation involving a confederate flag outside of a busy Tim Hortons.
Micheal said after it felt like she was getting nowhere in trying to file her complaint, she said she turned to her friend and said, “This town is very racist.”
“I was so exhausted. Because the guy wasn’t letting me give my side of the story, he kept cutting me off, he kept saying ‘You’re just playing a victim,’” she said.
That’s when she said things got even worse and the officer, in uniform, became verbally aggressive, ordering her to “Take it back! Take it back!”
“We ended up leaving. My friend was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. I felt mostly mad, but also I was starting to feel like he was trying to instigate a reaction out of me so that he’d have an excuse to get physical or arrest me,” she said.
Micheal said she tried to get the officer’s name, but he was yelling at them.
“Even as we were already walking away he was just yelling it out ‘Take it back! Take it back!’”
“He had a moustache, glasses, … a little heavy-set, brown hair, a few grey hair in there too. … I’d say on the shorter side.”
Texting with the mayor
Following the incident at the police station, Micheal said she left several phone messages with the RCMP but never got a response. She said she then decided to contact the media.
After that, Micheal reached out to Wendy Donovan, the mayor of Wolfville, who responded in a group text with the town’s CAO, Erin Beaudin.
Micheal said she was doubtful the police officer she spoke to had passed any of her information along to the officer investigating the incident with the roommate, and she was also upset by the interaction she had at the police station.
In the texts, Donovan advised Micheal that Beaudin had passed her concerns off to an RCMP officer and gave her an e-mail address to contact.
Though rather than documenting her claims in writing, Beaudin suggested Micheal instead call the station to relay her claims verbally over the phone.
“Keep us posted!” she said.
Micheal called the number and then told Donovan and Beaudin that she was now waiting for a call back. In the meantime, she told them she would be doing an interview with media.
“I’m not just going to discuss my experiences here, but the general experiences of friends and acquaintances,” her text read.
She said that’s when the situation turned odd. In an attempt to have Micheal reconsider her plans, Donovan suggested that the uniformed RCMP officer she was speaking to at the police station may not have, in fact, been a real police officer in the first place.
“Let’s say the person you were speaking to was not a real officer, just say, and you are smearing an innocent organization,” Donovan’s text read.
“I’m absolutely going to bring up the officer, he answered the door. He had a uniform,” Micheal’s text said.
“I didn’t even think she would [say] something that stupid,” Micheal told the Examiner. “Like me and my friend can’t tell what a police officer looks like, even though he just opened the police station door and kept referring to ‘we’ as the police department.”
“I don’t know how this is going affect my status”
Donovan did not respond to the Examiner’s request to comment on Micheal’s allegations. A spokesperson said the RCMP can’t discuss an ongoing investigation.
Micheal said that on Monday she was finally able to give a statement about the incident with the roommate on January 8.
“It must have been my sixth or seventh attempt trying to meet. Granted, I refused to go to the station because I simply didn’t feel safe after the officer yelled at us.”
Micheal said that an RCMP officer named Jason Morin is assigned to the case involving the physical altercation between Micheal and her former roommate. She said she was told the last name of the officer she met with at the police station is Munroe. As of now, she said there’s only one open investigation.
“I put in a complaint about officer Munroe… and I haven’t heard anything back,” she said.
Micheal said she’s now dealing with the additional stress of trying to find a lawyer.
“It’s been really hard to find someone that could help because every time I called for legal help their response was, ‘We can’t help you until you get charged with something.’ But I don’t want to get charged with anything to begin with,” she said.
“I’m a permanent resident, I just applied for my citizenship. I don’t know how this is going affect my status.”
In the interview, Micheal recalled a 2019 Black Lives Matter protest in the town that she said was mere “performative acts of solidarity.”
“That’s why I’m reaching out because it’s not even just about this girl trying to assault me because it’s not the first time I had to go through racist things, but it’s more about how the town reacted,” she said. “Because the students of colour here have been complaining for years.”
“I think I was just tired of this whole … idea that me defending myself makes me an aggressor. I was tired of this idea of having to maintain this bravado composure while somebody is trying to beat me up.”