A Black man threatened at gunpoint by police on video in 2021 is suing the municipality, alleging the officer discriminated upon him, assaulted him, and violated his Charter rights.
As the Halifax Examiner reported in March 2021, Halifax Regional Police placed an officer on administrative duties after he threatened to shoot a Black man on video:
“I will fill you full of fuckin’ lead,” the officer said. “Stop fuckin’ walking.”
“You’re not allowed to fuckin’ shoot me in my back for no reason,” the man replied.
Then the man runs away. The officer starts to chase him, still pointing his gun, but he doesn’t shoot and doesn’t continue to chase the man.
After the video came out, Chief Dan Kinsella released a statement.
“The comments that appear to have been made by our officer in the video were unacceptable,” the statement said.
“An internal investigation has been initiated into the incident.”
Police never released the outcome of that investigation, as is standard with their discipline process.
In April 2021, police issued a news release asking for the public’s help finding Robert Roech Chan, then 28. They issued a warrant for his arrest on robbery charges. Police arrested and charged Chan in May 2021.
While Chan has been sentenced for previous convictions, the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, when asked, disclosed no conviction or sentence for the 2021 charge.
Chan, now 30, is in custody at the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in New Glasgow.
Chan sues HRM
Chan’s lawyer, Hanna Garson, filed notice of action in Nova Scotia Supreme Court against Halifax Regional Municipality on Monday. The municipality has not filed a statement of defence, and Chan has not proven the allegations in court.
In an attached statement of claim, Garson identified the officer involved as “Constable Kirsten MacKay.” That appears to be a misspelling of Const. Kristen MacKay, who is on the municipal sunshine list.
MacKay was the first to arrive at the scene on Wentworth Drive on March 26, 2021, Garson wrote.
Garson described the interaction between Chan and MacKay:
The HRP Officer immediately placed his hand on his firearm while approaching the Plaintiff, an African Nova Scotian man, who was standing in the parking lot with at least three other individuals. When drawing his weapon, pointing it at the Plaintiff, and placing his finger on the trigger, the HRP Officer did not know the identity of the Plaintiff nor his involvement in any criminal activity. The Plaintiff was unarmed, empty-handed, and standing next to a parked red Ford Escape with grocery bags at his feet.
The Officer did not have information tying the Plaintiff to the commission of an offence, nor that the Plaintiff posed a threat to the HRP Officer’s safety.
The HRP Officer drew his firearm, pointed it toward the Plaintiff and demanded that the
Plaintiff get on the ground. The Plaintiff put his empty hands in the air, asked “for what?”
and explained that he did not have a weapon. The HRP Officer continued to demand that the Plaintiff get down. The Plaintiff stood with his hands in the air and asked the reason for his detention. The Plaintiff motioned towards the bags on the ground in front of him. The HRP Officer told him not to grab the bag. The Plaintiff complied, raising his hands again, while the HRP Officer continued to point his weapon at the Plaintiff.
By holding him at gunpoint, the HRP Officer detailed the Plaintiff, and further placed him under de facto arrest. Despite being asked multiple times, the HRP Officer failed to communicate any reasons for the Plaintiff s detention, and did not inform the Plaintiff of his rights upon arrest.
The Plaintiff began to slowly turn and walk away from The HRP Officer, keeping his hands high above his head. The Plaintiff circled a parked blue Dodge Ram with his hands up, and his back facing the HRP Officer. The HRP Officer followed, keeping his weapon drawn and his finger on the trigger, aimed at the Plaintiff s back. The Plaintiff asked why the officer was called to the scene, but the HRP Officer refused to answer. The Plaintiff continued to circle the vehicle with his hands up and said that the officer was not going to shoot him in his back for no reason. The HRP Officer responded “it makes no difference to me,” and went on to say, “don’t think for a second that I won’t” and “I will fill you full of fucking lead.”
The Plaintiff continued to circle the vehicle with his hands up, Constable MacKay continued to aim his firearm at the Plaintiff s back. Eventually, the Plaintiff fled the scene on foot, escaping from being held at gunpoint.
Lawyer alleges negligence
Garson argued the municipality is negligent because MacKay failed to de-escalate the situation; didn’t have reasonable grounds for arrest; pointed a firearm at Chan contrary to HRP’s use of force policy; and failed to abide by HRP’s code of ethics “which prohibit assuming someone is dangerous on the basis of race and providing different levels of service on the basis of race.”
“The Plaintiff states that the Defendant used excessive force and thus failed to meet the standard of care of a reasonably competent police officer,” Garson wrote.
Garson also argued MacKay assaulted Chan:
The officer caused harmful and offensive contact by pointing his firearm at the Plaintiff, finger on the trigger, for an extended period. The officer also stated that he would shoot the Plaintiff, which created a reasonable apprehension that harmful contact would occur. The officer made an imminent physical gesture by pointing his firearm at the Plaintiff, and verbally threatening him. The Plaintiff states that the conduct of the officer amounts to an assault. The officer is an employee of the Defendant, thus, the Defendant is vicariously liable for the assault of the Plaintiff.
And Garson argued MacKay violated Chan’s Charter rights.
“The Defendant’s excessive use of force against the Plaintiff, including the drawing of a firearm, pointing it at his chest and back, and issuing verbal threats against his life, amounts to a grievous interference with the life, liberty, and security of his person,” Garson wrote.
MacKay’s de facto detention violated Chan’s right to be free from arbitrary detention, Garson argued. And Garson argued the officer discriminated upon Chan on the basis of his race.
“The Plaintiff is a Black man. Black men are more disproportionately impacted by police misconduct, as they are more likely to be the victims of police violence, state exercise of power, and surveillance,” Garson wrote.
“The Plaintiff states that the Defendant’s unlawful detention and excessive use of force was based on unconscious or conscious bias and stereotyping relating to the perceived criminality and aggression of Black men.”
Chan is asking the court to award general, special, aggravated, and Charter damages, plus interest and costs.