Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella said his officers “responded appropriately” when they pepper sprayed a crowd of protesters.
Kinsella held a media availability on Thursday with Supt. Andrew Matthews, in charge of the criminal investigation division, who led Wednesday’s police action at the former Halifax Memorial Library, where the city evicted homeless people living in tents and temporary shelters.
Neither he nor Matthews were ever present at the scene, Kinsella conceded, but he said protesters were “confrontational, assaultive, and caused hazardous situations.”
“As the structure was being removed with heavy equipment nearby, some threw themselves in the path of the equipment and officers doing the work that had to be done,” he said.
Protesters formed a line in front of the equipment, and officers pushed them back bit by bit until they were able to get the skidsteer carrying the first of two temporary shelters through the crowd and onto a truck.
“A number of the protesters were also organized, armed with sensory irritants and projectiles,” Kinsella said.
“Some also brought decontamination for the sensory irritant here. Some of the protesters’ behaviour included throwing projectiles at our officers and municipal staff and damaging municipal property.”
The Halifax Examiner saw no use of sensory irritants by protesters. The decontamination referred to is milk and water, most of which was brought on scene after police started pepper spraying people. People were throwing water bottles around the time police started pepper spraying, and again as a municipal worker took a chainsaw to the second temporary shelter.
Police made 24 arrests and charged protesters with offences including obstruction, assaulting police, and resisting arrest. They were all released from custody in the evening with a promise to appear in court, Kinsella said.
Asked whether he was OK with the fact that a 10-year-old was pepper sprayed, Kinsella offered no sort of apology, and said police have to look at the situation in its totality.
“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,” he said.
He suggested the girl, who required medical attention after being hit with the spray, was hit with a less concentrated form.
“Under the circumstances, where the sensory irritant was deployed, there are situations where the irritant can atomize and get into the air. Depending on air flow and wind, it you can travel a little bit. It’s generally in a less concentrated form than a direct application,” he said.
“I want to remind everybody, assaultive behaviour, planned, projectiles, they were prepared to decontaminate themselves at the scene if sensory irritant was deployed. And further to that, a number of my officers were assaulted yesterday, kicked, punched head-butted and that’s the situation that they were faced with, and they responded appropriately.”
Asked about officers removing their name tags, Kinsella confirmed they’re not generally allowed to do so. The Examiner observed several officers on Wednesday not wearing name tags.
“The policy of the Halifax Regional Police is that officers will wear their identification name tags unless there’s some extenuating circumstance that would prevent that,” he said. “And in this particular case, we are reviewing the situation in its entirety.”
He was also asked about thin blue line patches — banned by the RCMP and other police forces for fostering an us vs. them mentality — spotted on one or two officers at the scene.
“Under policy officers are only permitted to wear what is issued and supplied by the Halifax Regional Police,” he said.
Asked about officers threatening journalists with arrest, Kinsella said he was only aware of one incident, and defended his officer’s actions. He was referring to an officer who repeatedly asked CTV reporter Sarah Plowman to move back from an area where she was filming arrests, far from any equipment being used to remove one of the shelters.
“‘I’m only aware of one incident where one reporter refused to remove themselves from a hazardous and unsafe situation,” Kinsella said.
“That situation was determined to be unsafe by the officers at the scene that situation had to be made safe. And I know that the individual that the officer was dealing with, was repeatedly asked, first asked, and then told to get back behind a certain area so they are out of harm’s way. I know the individual did not comply, they refused to comply, trying to get a better shot.”
The full news conference is available to view on the police Facebook page.
In another development on Thursday, CUPE 108, the union representing city workers, released a statement saying its members were “shocked and upset by the direction given to them the morning of August 18 by management to remove shelters used by people without homes.”
CUPE 108 President Scott Chetwynd said in the statement that workers and the union were not given advanced notice:
“Prior to August 18, HRM management had assured our members that a directive to remove shelters would not happen again. So, workers were shocked when they were given these directives again on Wednesday,” says Chetwynd.
“Also, they faced unsafe conditions throughout the day, without adequate training. Many have told us that they’re traumatized by the events and they’re struggling to understand why their employer would insert them in the middle of such a controversial, ill-planned and unsafe situation,” says Chetwynd.
“We are advising our members on their right to refuse unsafe work and we have reached out to HRM management, including CAO Jacques Dube,” says Chetwynd. “We asked that our members be removed from unsafe conditions and immediately be escorted to safety. Management has not responded, and we feel this is a clear indication of the municipality’s position on worker safety.”
On Twitter, the union said the man seen using a chainsaw overhead without protective equipment to destroy the second of the temporary shelters was management.