Elizabeth had no expectations when she opened her email on a Monday morning in early February. But the words she read in the message received at 9:05am struck fear through her. As she stared at the screen, disbelief escalated into panic.

“To date I have not heard back from you. After discussions with our Director, our investigation will be concluded, and the [rape] kits obtained for evidence will be destroyed.”

Elizabeth was raped not once, but twice, by the same man: a cop with Halifax Regional Police. In both incidents, the officer was on-duty.

The message from the investigator assigned to Elizabeth’s file arrived almost exactly one year after her life was thrown into disarray. It was a year of misery: trying and failing to engage in reporting the abuse she’d endured to an independent body — all the while, fighting to manage the devastating impacts of PTSD.

Now, the province’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), the office tasked with investigating complaints and incidents of harm involving police officers, was threatening to destroy the evidence in her case.

She felt she couldn’t report directly to police.

“Why would they believe me?” she asks, “He’s saying it’s consensual and I’m saying it’s not,” she predicts, hopelessly “who’s gonna win that?”

She isn’t ready to go forward. Not now. Not yet. But she can’t forget what happened, either.

“I need more time,” she replied to the investigator, writing in desperation, “Please do not destroy the evidence.”

Elizabeth has been avoiding public areas for the past year for fear of encountering a cop. The sight alone of a police cruiser, or the whirr of a siren, is enough to send her into debilitating panic attacks.

She worries the cop who raped her twice before might try to find her again. She worries he might try to kill her.

And always, there’s an omnipresent sense of dread in the back of her mind.

“He’s out there. With a gun and a badge.”

◆         ◆         ◆

Elizabeth is a keen observer. She speaks quickly with little breaks of quiet in between, preparing with clarity her next phrase. By the time she was four years old, trading in cartoons for courtroom TV, her family had a prediction: Elizabeth would become a lawyer.

This bright future once imagined, now a cruel irony, seems an impossibility.

“Everything I’ve been through destroyed that.”

She’d wanted to raise her two children at home, in Nova Scotia. Now she’s preparing to pack everything up, and leave the province. It’s the only way she can imagine starting again.

◆         ◆         ◆

Elizabeth isn’t her real name. We’re protecting her identity as a victim of sexual violence. Elizabeth is terrified of what might happen if the details of the two separate incidents emerge in this report. Incidentally, the particulars of the well documented assaults are not germane in the examination of the system which received her complaint.

Emails of exchanges with SIRT, outlining various references to concrete facts, including DNA, partial video evidence, dates, times, and corroborating sources are plentiful.

Specifically, there is credibility, and substantive documentation, in the painful details of the two nights in question.

The night of the second rape, when Elizabeth first reached for her cell phone, and shakingly dialled the number to call for help, she couldn’t speak. The voice on the other line, one she recognized, waited.

“I’m here. I’m listening.”

Eventually, Elizabeth would say her own name aloud, and recount what had just taken place — a violent rape — less than half an hour earlier. Moving robotically, she drove herself alone, through darkness, to the hospital.

As she arrived, she could see a uniform in the distance, across the parking lot outside the ER. Immediately, her heart started pounding.

(It’s only a security guard, she tried to reassure herself. It’s not a cop.)

After going through triage, Elizabeth was met by the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) who received her call. It was very same nurse who’d conducted an exam to collect a rape kit from Elizabeth, just a month and a half earlier.

Now they stood facing each other again. Elizabeth would have to speak the words she couldn’t fathom: The same on-duty police officer had raped her- a second time.

◆         ◆         ◆

Sexual assault reporting rates are dismal, nationwide. Data from hospitals and rape crisis centres do not add up with cases documented by police. There’s a chasm in between, where thousands of reported cases should be.

This poses a bigger problem for Elizabeth.

“Who do you report to when your abuser is a police officer?” she asks.

“Cops protect cops.”

In Canada there is no time limit on bringing forward criminal charges relating to sexual abuse.

In 2015, the Nova Scotia legislature removed its historic statute of limitations on sexual assault cases, a change that allows victims seeking civil claims to come forward no matter how much time has passed.

Meanwhile there’s been increasing demand for support in developing sexual violence policies internally, at an institutional level.

Jackie Stevens, executive director for Avalon Sexual Assault Centre has seen evidence of this in universities, government, organizations and the private sector in the past couple of years, as requests for training and expert instruction continue to rise.

“We’ve had an increase [in requests] every year since 2013” says Stevens.

In addition to serving this growing need, the wake of the #MeToo movement has overwhelmed Avalon’s operations with calls from survivors looking for help. For the first time in the 23 years Avalon has offered trauma specific counselling, the centre is temporarily unable to receive new requests for services. For the time being, Avalon is focusing on completing sessions with existing clients and providing appointments for people currently on the wait list.

Beyond providing support for survivors, and helping institutions craft policy, Avalon also provides training. In fact, it has worked directly with Halifax Regional Police.

“HRP has done a lot of work to have a trauma informed approach,” explains Stevens, “[We’ve] trained front line officers, patrol, and even some investigators.”

But this isn’t a one-step fix, she adds.

“This process is ongoing and further work is needed.”

Stevens is quick to point out that sexualized violence happens in every industry and sector, but that it becomes more complicated when there’s a power differential.

“When it’s people in positions of trust and authority, who we’re relying on to keep us safe, whether that’s police, physicians, coaches, anybody who is that kind of realm of trust and authority, there are bigger ramifications.”

Specifically, Stevens says, when it comes to reporting.

“It makes it harder to come forward, because who is going to believe you? Then, there’s that added layer, particularly when it comes to police: is it safe to come forward? Particularly if threats have been made.”

This is exactly why Elizabeth did not report directly to police and, how she came to the decision instead, to alert SIRT.

In some jurisdictions, the teams responsible for police oversight receive only internal referrals, meaning, directly from police and RCMP. But here in Nova Scotia, any citizen can file a complaint.

This was her thinking: if she reported to SIRT, at least they’d know one of their own was a dangerous predator.

“Some justice is better than no justice.”

After the first rape, Elizabeth was in shock, and it would be a couple of days before she’d present herself at the ER and a rape kit would be collected. Through SANE, SIRT was contacted, and within two weeks, Elizabeth was prepared to provide a statement.

Keith Stothart. Photo: SIRT

In that first meeting with investigator Keith Stothart, Elizabeth would have to tell him what happened — describing the rape in excoriating detail. And Stothart pushed back.

“Why didn’t you scream?” Elizabeth says he asked her, “Why don’t you have bruises?”

It all pointed to the same question: Had she really done enough to make her refusal clear?

“There’s no physical evidence you said no,” she recalls Stothart telling her.

All the while, in the back of Elizabeth’s mind, she knew, this wasn’t the legal definition of consent.

Then, just as it had, on the night of the incident, her voice stopped working. She couldn’t form the words.

“I can’t do this” she remembers telling Stothart. She’d finish outlining what happened in a written statement.

Even this was a challenge: she was terrified to be alone in a room with another cop. (SIRT investigators are classed as peace officers. Some are seconded from active duty, and others are retired police officers.)

Stothart sat across from her, arms crossed, with the door closed behind him. Elizabeth felt trapped.

“All I can think is, I have to get through this man… to get out of this room.”

After the meeting, she tried to explain this to Stothart, writing in an email: “This isn’t about my discomfort with you personally, but more so what you represent. None of this is easy for me to verbalize, regardless of who I’m talking to.”

She hadn’t even finished giving her statement. Elizabeth wanted to have someone join her so she wouldn’t be alone with him in the room next time.

HRP’s victim services initially supported this effort, and Elizabeth was assigned a contact to help manage communication with SIRT, and eventually, this person arranged a meeting — not to finish providing her statement, but instead, to discuss accommodation.

Meanwhile emails were still going back and forth. Elizabeth provides consent for Stothart to access the rape kits from SANE. She expresses doubt about Stothart’s belief in her. And he tries to reassure her:

“You are completely wrong on your impression — I have taken everything you have told me about the incident as truthful and as such I am conducting a sexual assault investigation.”

Stothart goes on:

My job is to get the best evidence for the investigation and part of that is to determine what you said or did to let him know you did not want to participate in the activity at that time.

Elizabeth had also sent Stothart a copy of a Facebook exchange, the first time she shared what had happened with a friend. But SIRT never followed up.

Then came the meeting. Stothart, the HRP victim services contact, and Elizabeth all sat together. Elizabeth tried to explain how re-traumatizing the interview had been. She tried to ask for help. But the conversation quickly devolved into revisiting the partial statement Elizabeth had provided.

She says Stothart began challenging her on the specific location she claims to have been raped.

“You weren’t exactly honest with us,” Elizabeth remembers him saying.

“Do you want me to get a map?” she says Stothart asked, “I’ve got pictures. I’ll show you”

He pulled the images up, and pointed at them with his finger.

Looking at a map is different than being in a place, Elizabeth recalls feeling. She knew what had happened and where, but Stothart seemed to think she was misleading him.

“He was very confrontational” she says.

After the meeting, the victim services contact told her “I’m sorry.”

“If you had been dealing with the Sexual Assault Investigative Team [Halifax Regional Police’s unit] you’d be having a completely different experience,” adding, “He clearly isn’t trauma-informed.”

Elizabeth left the meeting in frustration, but nothing could have prepared her for the nightmare awaiting. Only two weeks later, it would happen again.

He’d found her. The same cop had tracked her down and raped her again, this time, his gun and taser looming just beyond her.

In the hospital, the same nurse examiner was stunned. “You must feel like you’re living in a movie,” she told her.

In the exam room, after summoning the courage to undress, provide a urine sample, and facing once more a reminder not to wash her body (“I felt disgusting. That made it a million times worse”) Elizabeth hid herself under a blanket.

“Can I touch your hand?” the nurse quietly asked, and she agreed.

“One of our hands was really warm and one was cold,” she remembers, “I can’t tell you whose hand was which.”

After leaving the hospital, Elizabeth told her victim services contact, who she’d built a rapport with, what had taken place. She told them how frightened she was to report the second rape to SIRT. She hadn’t even finished giving her first statement. Now the second meeting was approaching. How could she explain to Stothart what had happened?

“I was terrified” she says.

Elizabeth wrote to Stothart to tell him that another incident had taken place, though she was too frightened to share details.

Stothart knew it involved the same cop. They knew something had happened.

And even if they didn’t yet have Elizabeth’s account, SIRT now had two rape kits.

Elizabeth was living in terror, but she wanted to tell her story. Now it was SIRT who wasn’t ready.

There were delays. Months of waiting. Multiple emails back and forth showing scheduling issues, all pushing the appointment back.

In the meantime, Elizabeth had no one to talk to. Rape victims are often asked to wait telling the entire story of what happened, until it can be captured on camera in a formal statement. Even her counselor discouraged her from getting into too much detail.

“I felt like I was banging my head against a wall. I wanted to say it…but nobody would listen.”

The date was finally set — five months after the second alleged rape — and Elizabeth would be able to attend the interview with an advocate, who wouldn’t be permitted in the interview room, but who could wait just outside. There was talk, too, of bringing in a female investigator to conduct the interview.

That’s when she heard, “at the 11th hour,” she recalls, that the accommodation had been revoked.  

The victim services contact handling Elizabeth’s case would give her the news.

“After saying yes I can help you, she sends me this email saying sorry I can’t…” says Elizabeth

“She didn’t explain.”

(Elizabeth would later learn it was SIRT who had contacted HRP, and told victim services to stand down, citing a conflict of interest.)

For Elizabeth, this was the moment when everything took a turn.

“At that point I became suicidal.”

◆         ◆         ◆

After Elizabeth learned she couldn’t have a support person with her to give her statement, and her mental health was on the brink of collapse, she received one final blow from SIRT: the female officer they’d secured to conduct her interview was going on vacation, and wouldn’t be available for another two months.

“They were busy,” Elizabeth says flatly, “go figure.”

Seven months after the second rape, finally, Elizabeth would finish providing her statement. The female investigator conducted the interview offsite — an accommodation SIRT did allow. But Elizabeth would have to tell her story alone. “I told them everything.”

The cost was enormous. She had nothing left to give.

SIRT wanted to proceed with the investigation.

That’s when Elizabeth withdrew. She stopped returning emails. She tried to stop thinking about it entirely. She had told her story. Now she needed to pick up the pieces, try to confront her suicidal thoughts. She just needed to put one foot in front of the other, on solid ground.

Then, just three months later, came the email threatening to destroy evidence in her case.

She was ready to walk away.

“I’m done fighting” she says, staring into nothing.

◆         ◆         ◆

Elizabeth’s friend Dan (not his real name) recalls this time with a heavy sigh.

“I found it devastating.”

Dan and Elizabeth have been friends for five years. “We talk every day,” he says, usually over text. Elizabeth confided in him after the second attack.

“She told me about it within a couple days,” he says, adding soberly, “It’s hard for her to tell anybody about it.”

Dan doesn’t have an axe to grind with police. In fact, he has a friend, a cop from his hometown, who would go on to become a SIRT investigator (the friend is no longer with SIRT).

“He [Dan’s friend] definitely has his ideas about right and wrong,” Dan says, “ideas that would apply to most.”

“He wants to see the right thing done.”

But as Dan watched Elizabeth attempting to navigate through SIRT, he began to lose confidence in the system.

“The more it went the angrier I found myself becoming,” says Dan, describing painful conversations with Elizabeth,  “like talking to someone who is dead inside”.

Dan pauses.

“She struggles every day just to live. She very much feels like her life has been absolutely ruined. All the dreams she had, all the hopes she had…are gone.”

Dan says he can’t imagine why any woman would ever come forward, and commends those who do for their bravery.

“I wish there was a way to offer more protection,” he says, “They [complainants] have to prove themselves innocent, not the other way around. Not the guy who did it. It’s all on these women.”

Dan was watching his friend slowly shatter, over time; like a crack extending through glass, threatening its very shape.

Then something unexpected happened: Dan heard a story on the radio, just three weeks ago, about a case eerily reminiscent of his friends’.

“The first thing that went through my head,” he remembers, “I wondered if it was the same officer.”

On May 23rd, SIRT released a decision in a case.

A police officer accused of sexually assaulting two separate women (one of them, allegedly, on many occasions), would not face charges. In its release, SIRT points to procedural limitations: “both incidents occurred outside of SIRT’s jurisdiction and prior to SIRT’s formation.”

(Complaints dating before SIRT’s formation in 2012 are not investigated.)

Dan texted Elizabeth about the story, fearing it might be the same cop.

“She said he did it to her several times,” he wrote, adding “and of course SIRT can’t find anything to prove it.”

“I suspect it’s more won’t than can’t.”

But Elizabeth was already flattened.

“It felt like a punch to the gut,” she says, “I didn’t want to hear it.”

Of course, she too, wondered if it was the same officer. If the same cop who had raped her twice was out there abusing other women. But even this posed a dangerous question:

“Suddenly it wasn’t just me. I was forced to accept that it was more than just me being a weak victim. Hearing that meant maybe I wasn’t the one with the problem. That was hard to process.”

She replied a one line answer to Dan but it would take her a few days to call and ask him about it. She became more troubled as the days passed.

“It bothers me,” she says “it was repeated assaults, coupled with the suggestion that there’s evidence to support it, and they still did nothing.”

“If you’re the victim of a police officer, you’re not entitled to the same supports as a regular citizen.

That’s what upsets me the most, now, more than anything.”

◆         ◆         ◆

SIRT Director Felix Cacchione confirms certain aspects of SIRT’s handling of Elizabeth’s file: the exchanges, the delays, and the attempts to provide accommodation. But he interprets the case very differently.

SIRT Director Felix Cacchione. Photo: SIRT

“[Name redacted] was asked…was given the option of being interviewed in a location other than here, being interviewed by an officer who was a female. Those various overtures were never responded to,” says Cacchione in an interview.

(Elizabeth maintains she did provide her completed statement, offsite, with the female officer.)

Cacchione sits in a boardroom in SIRT’s downtown office. He explains that the independent investigative body does not handle complaints involving sexual assault any differently than other cases.

“It’s basically the same process.”

Once a complaint has been filed, the “subject officer” (to borrow SIRT’s terminology) is advised, as well as their superior. Any decisions regarding employment during an investigation are at the discretion of the employer.

“Someone who’s under investigation is not obliged to provide any notes or reports or statement,” Cacchione explains, “like any accused in a criminal proceeding.”

If SIRT discovers credible evidence of criminality, charges are laid (only with the consent of the complainant), and the case is handed over to the Nova Scotia public prosecution service.

There is no policy determining how long evidence such as DNA must be kept in any given case, or rules governing limits on when complainants complete the process.

But Cacchione is clearly frustrated by this particular case.

“In a situation where we ask the complainant, ‘OK, we’d like to get a statement from you’ and the statement is not forthcoming… how long do you wait to take the statement?”

Cacchione’s hands are palm up, as he continues:

“If you have somebody who says ‘I don’t like the way you were talking to me, because you have your arms folded, and you’re a man’ and those arrangements are made, and you get no reply — does that not indicate something?” he asks.

Cacchione answers his own question: “One of the inferences being, I’m not prepared to go ahead with this.”

◆         ◆         ◆

Halifax lawyer Benjamin Perryman describes the unfolding events of this case as “disturbing,” and says it highlights the need for review of internal practices.

“It shows SIRT needs a written policy for collection, retention, and destruction of evidence, and [it shows] why that policy must be trauma informed.”

Benjamin Perryman

Perryman says written policy will protect not only sexual assault complainants, “who may require more time,” but the investigating body itself.

“It protects everyone, including members of SIRT. It ensures that best practices are being used.”

Cacchione is firm in his assertion that SIRT’s practices are rigorous, pointing to an effort to bring in a female investigator (to replace Stothart) to allow Elizabeth to provide a statement.

“We bring in someone who is of the same gender, so there’s not this perception of a threat being exercised because the interviewer is a male, because he had his arms crossed,” says Cacchione… “Does that really mean anything?”

This is at the centre of trauma informed response, a subject Sunny Marriner specializes in. Marriner is considered the Canadian expert in the ‘Philadelphia Model,’ and is currently leading reviews of sexual assault investigations in police departments across Canada.

The approach aims to address systemic bias and discrimination, eliminate barriers for victims in reporting sexualized violence, and improve police response.

On a break from a training session working directly with police in Waterloo, Marriner says, “best practice is to always to preserve evidence.”

“It should certainly never be destroyed as a ‘consequence’ of a survivor being intimidated, unsupported, or just not ready,” she says, adding, “particularly if the case involves someone in a position of significant trust and authority, like a police officer.”

Marriner says threats like this affect not only complainants, but the independent investigating body itself.

“Serious investigators want to know if an armed officer is using that power to commit crimes and it’s particularly disturbing if SIRT is threatening to destroy evidence that may involve someone with the amount of power and access that a police officer has.”

Still, Cacchione sees no problem in one of his investigators’ threatening a complainant to destroy evidence.

“The passage of time affects the strength, or the purity of an exhibit,” he says, “particularly if we’re talking bodily fluids.”

This may be true of poorly stored evidence, but in Elizabeth’s case, the investigator threatened to destroy two rape kits. A simple Google search wields a plethora of recent examples of rapes and murders solved using DNA gathered from decades-old cases.

Marriner calls Cacchione’s justification that the DNA could degrade over time “baffling.”

“There’s absolutely no scientific reason to destroy potentially viable evidence in an alleged serious assault involving someone in a position of extreme power and authority.”

Marriner says Elizabeth’s reaction — as Cacchione put it, to “stop and start and stop and start” with the investigation — is not uncommon.

“It is extremely common for survivors to feel intimidated during interviews. That fear is exponentially higher for survivors of police-committed sexual assault, which is why most never come forward.”

Still, Cacchione stands by investigator Keith Stothart.

“We’re talking an investigator who has over 35 years experience in major crime investigations in the taking of statements, in conducting investigations.”

“We’re not talking the RCMP officer whose video was shown last week interviewing the young woman.”

The sexual assault case Cacchione refers to took place in Kelowna BC in 2012. Video footage, recently made public, shows an investigator questioning a then 17-year-old Indigenous woman who reported the incident. Alone in the room with the teenager, the officer asks her if she’s aware her alleged offender may have to go to jail. He then goes on to make the suggestion she “was turned on by it all”. The investigation is currently under review by the RCMP, as a civil suit unfolds.

Cacchione says perception is “a very subjective thing”.

“Having spent over 40 years in the criminal justice system, I would be loathe to accept at face value comments that are just easily made and not backed up. The perception of ‘he wasn’t listening to me, he was upset, he had his arms crossed … “

Cacchione says in his experience as a prosecutor, and later a judge, he’s seen complainants suffering on the stand. He’s observed the havoc criminal trials can wreak on survivors.

But he believes in this case SIRT made every effort to appropriately receive the complainant.

He adds:  “There are two players in this. The complainant and the officer who is under investigation. How long does the investigation hang over the officer’s head? Because that also has an impact on the person accused.”

Elizabeth says she was given the impression, however, that the subject officer would not be informed. This was a sticking point in the process. She feared if he knew she had reported him, she would be in danger. In emails to Stothart, Elizabeth repeatedly asks for reassurance that he wouldn’t be contacted without her consent.

Cacchione says at the very least, after booking a female investigator, and arranging for the interview to be conducted off-site, Elizabeth should have informed SIRT that she wasn’t prepared to go forward with the process.

But in her reply to Stothart’s threat to destroy the evidence, Elizabeth did ask for more time.

Perryman allows there may indeed be cases in which the destruction of evidence is legitimate. But he believes providing access to the written policy on SIRT’s website will improve public confidence.

In the meantime, Perryman says this case illuminates a broader concern.  “It raises questions of whether SIRT has the support and oversight it requires to do its job.”

Specifically in this case, Perryman says there is a risk that comes with threatening to destroy evidence.

“If they hastily destroy evidence it means the likelihood of a successful investigation will be compromised, if that person changes their mind on how they wish to proceed.”

Marriner says it’s also natural for survivors to have long periods of silence, and even to struggle responding.

“[It’s] sexual assault 101, and drawing a negative inference from those norms indicates a low understanding of this crime, and the victims of it.”

Not only should investigators be patient, Marriner explains, they should encourage survivors to take the time they need.

“It’s standard practice in cases where the complainant is struggling to offer options to assist them in engaging, like support people or advocates or, simply, more time and encouragement. This would be particularly critical in cases involving police officers.”

Marriner says if that still doesn’t help, cases should be closed with the option to re-open if and when the complainant is able to move forward.

Cacchione confirms, despite the threat, Elizabeth’s two rape kits have not been destroyed.

Though it’s unclear where the case stands from SIRT’s perspective.

“We have not heard from her,” he says, adding “If she can talk to you about this, she can talk to the investigators about it.”

In Cacchione’s tenure helming SIRT (about 18 months to date) he says he has not received any feedback on the handling of sexual assault cases. Nor does he see a problem with SIRT’s investigative practices.

But he shares a story of presiding over two very similar cases in that short time. Cases that illuminate a broader scope of who police officers are victimizing. And they aren’t just stories like Elizabeth’s.

Most files are referred to SIRT internally, by police themselves, as were the two cases he refers to. In each, police officers were alleged to have committed sexual assault against their peers — other cops. Neither complainant alerted SIRT.

Stunningly, in both cases, word came from third parties, still other police officers, who either witnessed or heard about the incidents, and felt compelled to act by reporting to senior officers.

Both investigations turned up credible evidence, and SIRT sought to proceed criminally.

But both complainants declined.

Why?

“I don’t want a charge laid,” Cacchione says each told him, “because I have to work with this guy.”

Marriner says officers who are assaulted by their colleagues almost never come forward. And if police oversight investigating bodies do become aware of abuses of power, the result is tragically predictable, for the victims.

“They often express incredible feelings of isolation and end up leaving the service.”

Still, Cacchione is firm in his belief in the system, as it stands.

This organization is not here to protect or defend police officers. Or cover up for any misdoing.

This organization is here to be independent in its investigation of any complaint made as a result of the actions of a police officer.”

Asked about the possibility of receiving training, Cacchione points to a recent conference members of SIRT attended, where there were panel discussions, but didn’t elaborate on the content.

SIRT has not received trauma informed training, from Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, locally, or from any other advocacy group.

As a last ditch effort, Elizabeth requested a meeting with Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey to discuss the handling of her case. Furey declined.

◆         ◆         ◆

In mid-winter, after a year of engaging with SIRT, Elizabeth’s eyes flash when the sound of a siren rings past. She’s sitting stiffly in a library, hidden behind stacks of books. She checks about every minute, turning her head to ensure no one is within earshot.

“I can spot them a mile away,” she says, peering out the window, tracking the police cruiser with her eyes.

“Being out in public is hard,” she says, “because I’m always doing that scan.”

A friend recently texted her after being pulled over by police in a routine stop. What are you gonna do if that happens to you? her friend asked.

Elizabeth brought the same question to SIRT. The reply, “You have to obey the law” haunts her. “What are you supposed to do if you’ve been brutalized like that?” she asks.

“I play it through my mind every day.”

Four months later, Elizabeth’s eyes have softened. Something fearful in her gaze has transformed into certainty. There is a lightness about her.

She’s just arrived at a restaurant outside the city, where her friend Dan will join her for an early supper.

“This place has the best clubhouse sandwich around, in my opinion,” she confides playfully.

Sitting in a booth alone, her back is straight. It’s been raining all month. But this is the least of her concerns. She greets the waiter warmly. Dan will arrive shortly.

Elizabeth knows there’s no going back. She can’t undo what has happened.

The events of the past year and a half have cost her nearly everything: her sanity, her stability, any sense of safety she may have had.

But she has a plan. Even if it means walking away from her home, her community, everything familiar, to leave it all behind and start fresh with her children, in another city.

And still, despite everything, Elizabeth’s dream of working in the justice system lives inside her:

“I’d love to be a legal researcher. I’d be totally in my element.”

Though Elizabeth’s future isn’t set, one thing is certain: She is looking forward, now. She is ready. There is still hope.


Maggie Rahr is a freelance journalist working in Halifax.

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  1. Thank you for bringing this story to the Public’s attention. Even if “Elizabeth’s” story is completely fabricated (and I have no reason to believe it is) it sheds critical light and attention on the inner workings of SIRT and what I will politely describe as “outdated” approaches to this issue. Nova Scotians should demand more of their publicly funded institutions.