Carrie Low wants to tell her story.

That may sound odd, as Low has made the details of her sexual assault and the subsequent battles for police accountability quite public. Low went to court to get a publication ban overturned, precisely in order to be able to tell her story. Painful testimony was offered in a criminal trial that was widely reported on. Low was the subject of a CBC podcast series. And earlier this month, still more details of the assault and the police response to it were rehashed at a two-week public hearing before the Police Review Board.

But that’s not the complete story.

In the middle of the Police Review Board hearing, Low met with me in a private room at the Halifax Central Library on a Saturday.

“I want to give you my experience through all this,” she says. “I just haven’t been given the platform or space to be able to tell it all the way it happened.”

We spend a couple of hours looking at documents and reading Low’s notes — she’s an obsessive note-taker, and writes down seemingly everything — but as we talk, I realize there’s another entire dimension to Low’s story, and so I ask for a second interview. After the hearing is over, we meet for another couple of hours at the offices of the Elizabeth Fry Society.

At both interviews, Low has friends as support for her. She speaks plainly, openly, and often tearfully about painful events, but also about potentially embarrassing details. She tells me she wants all of it public, but to be absolutely certain, I go against standard journalist principle and give her the opportunity to review this article, and the right to squash this article if she chooses. She consents to publication.

Here’s what I learn from the interviews. While the assault itself and its aftermath are central, there’s a greater, much more positive story to be told, and that’s about the long arc of Low’s entire life.

It’s a story about how a particular young woman grew up injured and defensive in a man’s world; how she developed strategies that served her — sometimes for the better, sometimes not; how a terrible event in 2018 led to stark realizations and reevaluations; and how armed with her experience and knowledge, she has become an advocate, supporter, and shoulder to lean on for scores of other women.

This is the story of the evolution of Carrie Low.

‘No man will ever do this to me again’

Low grew up in the Annapolis Valley, of a well-off family. But wealth does not equate with love.

“I suffered some childhood trauma,” says Low. “I left home at 15. I’ve never been back. To this day, my mother and I are — we’ve been estranged my whole life. And I never got along with women, I think because of my relationship with my mother, how much she hated me and everything was my fault and, you know, I took the bear brunt of everything that went on in her life.”

“So I hated women,” Low continues. “I didn’t like women. I never had women friends. I thought I was well-suited to be around men because I understood men, and that men understood me more, but I wasn’t really connecting the dots about why they understood me more.”

Low essentially raised herself. But she’s intelligent, quick-witted, and a committed hard worker, so was able to provide for herself from a young age. Still, she was a young woman in a man’s world.

When she was 21 years old, “I was intoxicated at work party and I was raped and I didn’t report it,” says Low.

She reacted to the rape in two ways.

“From that moment on my life kind of spiralled into alcohol; I was an alcoholic, plain and simple,” she says, describing herself as a “functional alcoholic.”

The rape additionally defined her relationship with men. She found perhaps one of the most male-dominated careers possible, in trucking and logistics, working for several companies before finally becoming operations manager at a trucking company in Dartmouth.

“From that situation, I lived my life wanting to be around men, but to be overpowering of men,” she explains. “And for 20-some years I was like, ‘No man will ever do this to me again.'”

“I had a great career making good money,” she continues. “I was operations manager. I worked my way up through the industry. And, I mean, relationships kind of always fell apart, but I always found myself in relationships where I was on top. I was the breadwinner, I had the home, so you could never take from me.”

“I always held a good job, great salary, supported all of my [three] daughters without child support their whole lives. Single mom for a very long time. Was there harm done to my children with my drinking? For sure. Of course there would be. But you know, and I’m not trying to glorify my alcoholism at all, but I never had parties at my home. I always went out to drink and I would come home.”

“So, you know, even though I was an alcoholic, I always got home. Nothing ever happened to me in those 20 years.”

But then she was assaulted by a group of men the night of May 18, 2018.

“And to me it was like, I’ve got to report this now.”

‘They saw my history… ah, fuck her’

Low is now five years sober; “my kids are so proud for me for putting down alcohol and never touching it again,” she says. Low’s daughters are now all adults.

But Low is forthright about how alcohol has affected her life. She has had three drinking and driving incidents.

One of those was in Miramichi, in 2009. She was arrested by a woman cop who handcuffed Low and placed her in the back of the police car.

“I’m very tiny,” says Low. “It doesn’t matter how tight they put those handcuffs on me, I can get out of them. So I slipped right out of the handcuffs in the back of the cop car. And I was adamant that she wasn’t putting me in jail that night.”

That of course didn’t go over well with the cop, who opened the back door of the cruiser to re-cuff Low. As the cop entered, Low kicked at her. The cop came out of the encounter with a five-centimetre bruise on her leg. Low came out of it with an assaulting a police officer conviction.

Despite her adamance, Low did in fact spend the night in jail, and was released the next morning.

“I’m standing there waiting for a drive home and I wanted a cigarette; I had no lighter,” Low recounts. “This [police] officer comes out and me being who I am, I was like, ‘Oh, hey.’ And he was lighting a cigarette and I was, “Do you mind, can I bum a light?” And he was like, ‘Sure.'”

“We were just talking about all kinds of things, about how stupid I was for getting charged because I ran out of gas — that’s why I got charged,” Low continues. “So I was telling him this, like, stupid me, you know, blah, blah, blah. And then we just were talking about Miramichi because I had just moved there and was new to the area. And I was just kind of being a jackass.”

“So we were sitting there talking and chatting, and me being a little cockiness that I am, I’m like, ‘so Miramichi, hole in the wall,’ so I’m like, ‘Hey, so how many times have you had to pull that gun out there?’ Oh, jeez. So I was just joking around, just chit chat.”

As we’ll see, the events around Low’s arrest in Miramichi in 2009 would become relevant many years later. Fast forward nine years, to April 2018.

Low was living in Dartmouth, with a house she rented with her then-boyfriend, a man she is still good friends with.

“The relationship started deteriorating partly due to my alcoholism,” says Low. “But he wasn’t being truthful to me.”

One night they argued. “He went out all night, didn’t come home,” says Low. “I confronted him the next morning, of course, aggressively. He grabbed me, so I slapped him.”

He went to speak with the police.

“Understand that this is someone who’s green, never had a fight in his life,” says Low. “He never had dealings with the police. He just wanted to know what his options were because he wanted me out of the house.”

When police asked the man what happened, he recounted the entire dispute, including being slapped.

“And as soon as he said I slapped him, of course they wanted to charge me,” says Low. “So that night, I didn’t know any of this. I got home, I walked in the back door at 5:30 in the evening and the doorbell was ringing. So I literally walked in the back door, still with my coat on, go to the front door and it’s police, there to arrest me. And they arrest me in front of my daughter, who was just turning 16 at the time. They didn’t interview me, didn’t ask me my version of events, didn’t even investigate just, boom!, you’re arrested.”

She was charged with domestic assault.

A month later, Low went to Dave Doolittle’s on Tacoma Drive and was drugged and kidnapped by a group of men who sexually assaulted her.

Low now believes that the events around her arrest in Miramichi in 2009 and the domestic assault charge in April 2018 led to the police discounting her report of being assaulted in May 2018.

“Me walking in there — I’m a white woman. I had a great job. You know, I would sort of fit that narrative or that stereotypical mold of a ‘good’ sexual assault victim. Right?”

But the domestic assault charge got more traction than did her report of being sexually assaulted.

Low began to make sense of the situation several months later when, as part of the court process related to the domestic assault charge, she received her police record, called a CPIC, named for the Canadian Police Information Centre database.

The entirety of Low’s police record is three drinking and driving convictions, one driving while suspended, the assault of a police officer, and the domestic assault.

When someone is charged with domestic violence, they are automatically prohibited from buying firearms, a policy that Low has no problem with; “I’ve never owned a gun in my life, never been around guns,” she says.

But her CPIC shows something else: “it said I had an interest, a specific interest, in police firearms. I’ll show it to you. It’s actually crazy.”

Low digs through a pile of papers she had brought to the interview, and pulls out the police record. It’s as she says.

After she was assaulted, “they saw my history,” says Low. “They were like, ‘ah fuck her. I 100% believe it’s because of this thin blue line. She assaulted a cop. She hates cops, She’s a drunk, drunken driving charges. And that’s what they did.”

The weekend of the assault

A brick building with a green bush to the left of the entryway and a bench to the right. Above the entryway is a sign that says "Doolittle.'"
Dave Doolittle’s bar on Tacoma Drive in Dartmouth. Credit: Tim Bousquet

Besides the police biases in Low’s case, there was additionally a level of dumb luck and unlikely circumstance that confused police and fed those biases, Low believes.

Low’s assault happened late in the night on May 18, 2018, the Friday of the Victoria Day long weekend. (For this narrative, each day continues past midnight, to bar closing time. To create this narrative, I’ve relied on police records submitted as exhibits in the Police Review Board hearing, which include officers’ General Occurrence reports and Low’s interviews with police; testimony from Low and police officers at the hearing; and my own interviews with Low.)


Because of her breakup with her boyfriend, Low was staying with a work colleague while her new apartment was being prepared, sleeping in a spare room. At around 10pm on Friday night, Low went out on her own, taking a cab from the house to the Hub Too, a bar on Tacoma Drive. There was a band playing. She had a couple glasses of wine, and bought a shot for herself and someone at the bar, bar tab of $29, tip included.

At just before midnight, the band finished playing and she walked to the nearby Dave Doolittle’s. There were people she vaguely knew there, friends of one of her daughters, and she spoke with a couple of friendly older men, but her “usual crowd” wasn’t present. She had a couple of drinks, and asked people to watch her drink when she danced on the dance floor, alone. A couple of times she left her jean jacket and her bag with her phone in it with the bartender and went outside to vape. Her last consistent memory is being outside, vaping.

Low’s next memory is laying in the back of a car with a man on top of her, and a coat or jacket on her face. Next she remembers being in the back seat of a car with four or five men. It’s about a 20-second memory; she recalls feeling squeezed in, and was being groped. She reached for the door lock to get out of the car.

“It was a power lock and I remember hearing the clicks and saying I wanna get out,” Low told Const. Steve Rideout during an April 2019 videotaped interview. She kept unlocking the door, but then it was locked again: click, click, click. “I just remember voices saying ‘you can’t, the cops are here.’ I had no coat, no purse. I didn’t have my bag. I don’t go anywhere without that stuff. I see the blue and white side of a cop car. I remember how blurry my vision was.”

The cops had been dispatched to Doolittle’s because of a fight between three men, which was unrelated to the kidnapping of Low.

Six different police officers wrote reports about the fight, and they are in general agreement with each other.

The first responding officers were Const. Dylan Carter and Const. Brad Benjamin, who arrived just at bar closing time at around 2am. The fight was over, but Benjamin spoke with the Doolittle’s bouncer, who said he appreciated having police around as the crowd dispersed. Benjamin said there were about 40 bar patrons, who began to disperse as more police arrived.

People were getting into cars and cabs, and police simply made sure everyone left peacefully; police didn’t stop or talk with any of the bar patrons.

Soon, noted Carter, there were just five people left. There was an intoxicated white, blonde-haired woman wearing light coloured jeans and a white crop top, being helped into a cab by a white woman and a Black man. And there was a second white woman with dirty blonde hair, a black skirt and a jacket, who tripped over a bench next to the building and was helped up by a white man.

Against policy, Carter began videoing the scene on his personal phone. The patrol sergeant on the scene, Charles Naugle, told Carter to stop videoing. Carter deleted the video.

Besides a couple of cabs (one an illegal ‘ghost cab’) picking up patrons, Naugle said he didn’t see any other occupied vehicles. “All officers involved were watching to make sure no fights broke out,” he wrote. “All the patrons seemed calm. While there were intoxicated subjects there, I did not see anyone passed out and immobile.”


The next morning, Saturday, Low woke up in a trailer. She couldn’t find her underwear or one of her shoes. She didn’t have her wallet or her phone. There was a man there who said something to the effect of “This is what happens when you come to Preston.”

She asked the man to call a cab for her, and he called Bob’s Taxi. There happened to be a cab in Lake Echo, and it could be there soon. Low remembered that her youngest daughter, then 16, had a soccer game in Bedford that morning; Low took the cab to the house she had been staying at, roused her colleague, and asked him to pay for the cab and take her to Bedford, and he agreed.

On the way to Bedford, Low began to process the fact of her assault. She was injured, and she had a metallic taste in her mouth. She realized she had been drugged. An acquaintance picked her up at the soccer game, and on the way back to Dartmouth, drove Low to Doolittle’s to pick up her jean jacket and bag; the bag contained her phone, but her bank card and ID were missing. The driver agreed to take Low and her daughter to Dartmouth General Hospital. They arrived at the hospital at about noon, and Low was examined by two Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners for about four hours, then interviewed by patrol officer Const. Bojan Novakovic.

The nurses and Low each say Novakovic asked Low inappropriate questions. Novakovic disputes that characterization.

Low told Novakovic she could remember a partial address of the trailer — 409 and Partridge.

There were no clothes for Low to change into at the hospital; Low says Novakovic gave her an evidence bag to put the clothes she was wearing into when she got home, and said he’d come by to get them later that night.

Novakovic entered his report of the interview into the police Versadex system at exactly 5:30pm Saturday. The report includes a narrative of Low’s account of her kidnapping and assault, including that she ended up in a trailer in Preston, where she could not find her underwear or shoes.

That report would soon be reviewed by Novakovic’s superiors.

At the Police Review Board hearing, Halifax Regional Police Staff Sergeant R. Scott MacDonald explained that once a patrol officer enters a report into Versadex, it goes to a quality assurance (QA) sergeant, who makes a determination about what should be done with the report — the matter can be closed, it can be sent back to the patrol officer for more action, or it could be assigned to another division. The report would also make it to the watch commander and to the duty officer; the duty officer was Charles Naugle.

On the Victoria Day long weekend in 2018, the investigators in the Sexual Assault Investigative Team (SAIT) were off duty. But, explained MacDonald, there are always two investigators from the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), commonly referred to as Major Crimes (CID includes SAIT, homicide, cold case, and the high risk factor unit) who are on-call.

The decision to call in a SAIT investigator is made at “the discretion of” the watch commander and the duty officer working collaboratively, said MacDonald. It so happened that that weekend, one of the two on-call Major Crime investigators was a SAIT investigator, Jordan Gilbert. But Gilbert was not called in. Low would not hear from a SAIT investigator until Tuesday.

After she left the hospital Saturday at around 5pm, Low went to where she was staying to clean up and change her clothes, and then met up with a woman I’ll refer to as J. The two weren’t close friends, but had long-standing plans to see a band play. Low had booked a room at the Hearthstone Inn for the evening.

Given the assault, Low wasn’t sure she was up to a night out, so went to the hotel to explain the situation to J.

“I didn’t go into details, but just a summary of what had happened, and said I didn’t want to go out that night,” says Low. “But she pressured me, like, ‘I think it would be good that we’re gonna be around our friends.'”

While out, J got heavily intoxicated — “she had three glasses to my every one,” says Low. Low managed to get J back to the hotel. They fell asleep.

J had a “psychotic dream” and began screaming in her sleep. Police were called, and later in the night J said she had been raped by four men — J had adopted Low’s quite real assault as her own false assault.

I’ve asked J for an interview, but she has not responded. The documents submitted as evidence in the Police Review Board hearing refer to J, but they don’t spell out an exact timeline for what happened next. But from testimony at the hearing we know this: At some point over the weekend, J recanted the account of being assaulted.

Meanwhile, when he saw Novakovic’s report about Low’s assault, Sgt. Naugle realized that he and officers had been at Doolittle’s the night before at around the time that Low said she had been kidnapped. He ordered the officers to submit reports about what they saw; these were entered between 8:34pm and 4:34am.

A white man with thin grey hair and a grey beard, with glasses and a dark suit jacket.
Halifax Regional Police Staff Sergeant Donald Stienburg, now retired, testified at the Police Review Board hearing on July 17, 2023. Credit: Tim Bousquet

According to Staff Sergeant Donald Stienburg, who testified at the Police Review Board hearing, Naugle called Stienburg at home just after midnight, and woke him up.

Naugle “was just asking me a question in relation to this incident,” explained Stienberg. “He didn’t get into details about the incident, exactly what happened, but some details on the account of what happened. One of the officers had taken a photograph at the scene of the disturbance at the bar.” Stienburg clearly misremembered the video Const. Dylan Carter had taken as photographs.

“So he’d taken photographs and he had deleted them,” continued Stienburg. “And he [Naugle] was asking me what he should do. I basically said that we need that photograph, so get the officer to try to go into his deleted photographs, whatever he needs to, if we need to send it to our crime [lab] to be able to take that photograph out of an iPhone, we should be able to get it back. But we need it. And there was a disciplinary thing there, too, for that, because he knew that we’re not supposed to take the pictures with our personal phone.”

Naugle’s own report, in which he mentions Const. Dylan Carter improperly videotaping the post-fight scene outside Doolittle’s on Friday night, was entered into the Versadex system at 12:39am. In it, he writes that Carter found the deleted video clip in his trash folder. “I had [Carter] send it to me,” writes Naugle. “I sent it to S/Sgt Stienburg to be forwared (sic) to the IO (Investigating Officer).”

Let’s pause and recount the sequence of events so far over the weekend:

• Late Friday night, Carrie Low is drugged at Doolittle’s and finds herself in a vehicle with four or more men;
• at precisely the same time, police arrive at Doolittle’s too late to intervene in a fight that had already ended, but officers watch people leave the bar, and Const. Dylan Carter videotapes the last five exiting patrons, who include two very drunk blonde-haired women being assisted into vehicles by other patrons; at Sgt. Naugle’s orders, Carter deletes the video;
• Late Saturday afternoon, Const. Bojan Novakovic interviews Low at Dartmouth General Hospital; he tells Low he will pick up her clothes later that night, but doesn’t;
• Later that evening, Naugle reads Novakovic’s report about Low’s assault; he doesn’t call in a trauma-informed SAIT investigator, even though such an investigator is on-call at that very moment. However, Naugle does call Sgt. Donald Stienburg, the head of CID, who is not on-call, waking him up, not to ask for a SAIT investigator, but to tell him about the deleted video;
• Stienburg tells Naugle to try to get Carter’s video retrieved from his phone;
• the same night, J tells her false story of being sexually assaulted in exactly the manner that Low was truly assaulted.

At the Police Review Board hearing, Stienburg was asked when he knew about J’s account. He replied that he couldn’t be sure; he couldn’t remember Naugle telling him about it during the phone call about the video, and he thought he probably didn’t learn of J until Tuesday morning. So it’s unclear. But whenever he learned of it, this is what Stienburg said he knew:

I remember being told that police were called to the hotel, which I believe was the MicMac Hotel… So police were called there. I don’t recall if they were called there once or twice, but at least once and [J] was at the front desk. The police arrived, I believe, or arrived and spoke to the staff and went up to the room. I’m not sure. It’s been a while since I’ve read the file or whatever. It didn’t turn out to be a big deal so it wasn’t something that stuck out in my mind, but it did at the time because it was something we had to look into. And police spoke to [J], she’s highly intoxicated, arrested for being intoxicated in a public place, because they felt it was safer for her to be in cells that night. They took her to the cells. But the story was that she told the staff that was the same basic set of facts that Carrie Low had detailed to the police in her sexual assault complaint. So they went up and spoke to Ms. Low, tried to, but I believe they had a report she was intoxicated and she was passed out, and that they didn’t get much information from her and they left. And that was all. 

Low disputes Stienburg’s account.

Low says she was deeply tired from the trauma of the assault and slept through J’s screaming. “When the police came in the room, they got hotel staff to let them in because they knocked on the door, which we didn’t answer,” she explains. “That woke me up, and they were in there for at least a good half hour. I talked with five officers, spoke to them all. We got [J] calmed down because she was like, ‘Get these men out.’ She thought she was in her apartment and these men were in her living room. And I’m like, ‘no, we’re in a hotel’ and we have to calm her down.”

With J back in bed, asleep, the police “assessed the situation and they left her with me. They saw there was no problem, nothing going on, and they left.” Low too fell back asleep. But then J woke up a second time, left the room without Low, and headed to the front desk of the hotel.

“I learned later she apparently was asking for someone to call 911. She called 911 to say that she had been assaulted. And that’s when she was arrested. She was arrested away from me. I didn’t even learn of this until the next day. I was not so intoxicated where I could not look after her, and if they cared for her safety, they didn’t fear for her safety the first time they showed up. They left her with me.”

Sunday and Monday

Stienburg said he didn’t know when J recanted her account, but thought it was probably Sunday, after she sobered up:

In this case, I think the person was so intoxicated, the allegation was kind of weird in that it had already be reported by another person. So in that particular situation, patrol would have kept that file and waited for her to sober up. I mean, it’s common sense that they would wait to interview her when she’s sober, not highly intoxicated, and making up the story that turned out to be false and then interviewed her then and then determined that, oh, no, she was giving the story that’s already been reported. She’s already reported this and it was Carrie Low, not her — They wouldn’t have dealt with CID on this, they wouldn’t have called us in with an intoxicated person sitting in cells; there’s nothing to look into until she sobers up and tells us what was going on, whether this is true or whether it wasn’t. And I believe that’s what happened. They realized that, you know, she was confused because of her level of intoxication, I guess. And then they realized that, no, this wasn’t a sexual assault that CID is going to be investigating. This was related to the Carrie Low file. We can link files so the investigators can look at it and say, ‘okay, I’m aware of this,’ because we should be, ‘and there’s nothing to it.’ It was not going to affect her [Low’s] file.

But Low believes that, coupled with biases police brought into the investigation and other events over the weekend, J’s account did in fact affect her file.

Sunday evening, Low called Novakovic and told him that she had talked with Bob’s Taxi, but they wouldn’t give her the Preston address because they couldn’t be certain who was asking, but they would give the address to police if they asked. Low googled what she could remember of the address — 409 Partridge — and found 409 Partridge River Road in East Preston. Novakovic entered that information into Versadex.

Even though there was an exact address where a sexual assault had occurred, and where there was possibly evidence that included Low’s underwear and shoes, no police effort was made to secure a search warrant for the property. No such effort was made Sunday or Monday, or in the following weeks, or even to this day.

No other action on Low’s case is reported in the Versadex files on Sunday or Monday. But at some point over those two days, Const. Dylan Carter’s video was retrieved, and must have been viewed. And it’s hard to believe that Low’s report of a very serious crime could be ignored completely, so we can speculate that police discussed her case among themselves informally.

Jerell Smith

A man with a beard, dark glasses, and a plaid shirt.
Jerell Smith, formerly an investigator with the Sexual Assault Investigation Team (SAIT), testified to the Police Review Board on July 13, 2023. Credit: Tim Bousquet

What we do know is that on Tuesday, May 22, Low’s file was assigned to RCMP Const. Jerell Smith.

Smith was the most junior, newest member of the Sexual Assault Investigative Team, and had never yet overseen a SAIT investigation; Low’s case was his first. Smith was scheduled to work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but then to begin a two-week vacation.

A word about SAIT. Like the other units in the CID, SAIT is an “integrated unit” composed of both RCMP officers and Halifax Regional Police Department (HRPD) officers. This arrangement is unique to Halifax — it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country.

That unique arrangement presents administrative challenges and a confusing command structure. For example, in 2018, the RCMP did not have a written policy on how to investigate sexual assaults, while the HRPD did have a written policy.

And while on paper, RCMP constables reported to an RCMP sergeant and HRPD constables reported to HRPD sergeants, in practice the command structure was fluid. There were two teams within SAIT, one headed by RCMP Sergeant Linda Gray and the other headed by HRPD Detective Sergeant Steve McCormack. But each team had both HRPD and RCMP constables working under the sergeant. At the time of Low’s assault, Gray was seconded onto another policing project, and so RCMP Const. Kelly Plamondon, who usually worked under HRPD Sgt. McCormack, became the Acting Sergeant overseeing Gray’s team. But Smith, an RCMP officer, testified that while Gray was away, he was regularly told what to do by HRPD Sgt. McCormack.

The duality of SAIT leads to an additional problem with oversight. The Police Review Board has the authority to discipline the HRPD members of SAIT, but not the RCMP members of SAIT, like Smith, for instance. Instead, the RCMP members of SAIT can be disciplined through an internal RCMP process, but there is no independent third party that can review or override the internal RCMP process.

The legislation that created the Police Review Board gives the board the power to consider a complaint against the entire Halifax Regional Police department, although the board has never done so and has never even created the procedures for doing so. Low is asking the board to do exactly that — recommend changes in how the department conducts sexual assault investigations. The board hasn’t yet decided whether it will do so.

But even if the Police Review Board decides to make such recommendations, does the board have any authority to recommend changes specific to SAIT? It’s not clear it does.

Back to Tuesday morning, May 22, 2018.

Smith testified that he arrived at work at 7am and was assigned the Low file by Stienburg. According to Smith, Stienburg told him that Low was lying about the sexual assault, and that Smith should close the file.

Stienburg “told me that she [Low] was wearing an all-black dress and that she was seen in a crowd of people,” said Smith. “HRP had responded to a fight complaint at the bar, at Dave Doolittle’s, and that [Low] had indicated that she was kidnapped, but the police had evidence that she was [later] captured wearing a black dress in this video that this officer took.”

“He was using that as evidence that Ms. Low was lying, that she falsified her complaint,” explained Smith. “He was saying that, again, Ms. Low had told police that she left the bar at a certain time and what I was told by Donnie is that there was video evidence to support that she was actually there at the bar, on a video by this police officer at this other call that was a fight disturbance. And that was the reason to close the file.” 

According to Smith, Stienburg had a sergeant at the Halifax Regional Police email the video clip to Smith; Smith said he received that email, but the link to the video didn’t work.

Asked at the Police Review Board hearing if he discussed J’s false account of being assaulted, and her subsequent recantation of that account, with Jerell Smith, Stienburg responded as follows:

I don’t, I don’t know if I, I don’t believe, I don’t remember, I don’t recall even speaking with Jerell. But if I, if I did, I might have said, you know, you’re aware of that, look into it maybe, but I don’t recall that. I know, you know, I know that I thought it was with uh, Corporal or Acting Sergeant Kelly Plamondon that we had that discussion, but maybe Jerell was present. I don’t know.

More generally, police reject Smith’s assertion that he was told to close the Low file.

As I was reporting on this article, I also sat down with Jerell Smith and his father, Tony Smith, and interviewed the pair for more than two hours. That interview has its own reporting trajectory, and will result in a future article.

But I can say this now: Jerell Smith’s story has been consistent. He speaks openly about mental health issues he faces, and those issues are rooted in his experience as a cop, and in particular with his work on the Carrie Low file. In our interview, Smith spoke with calm assurance, carefully laying out details and responding to my challenging questions with patient explanations.

This was in contrast to his appearance at the Police Review Board hearing. At the hearing, Smith maintained his consistent story, but he became flustered and angry under cross-examination.

A grid with names and dates, and work designations.
The schedule for the Sexual Assault Investigative Team, May 19-31, 2018. The Halifax Regional Police Department (HRP) and the RCMP have different nomenclature for their rankings, but in this schedule the RCMP “constable” (Cst.) is equivalent to the HRP’s “detective-contable” (D/Cst), and the RCMP’s “sergeant” (Sgt) is equivalent to the HRP’s “detective-sergeant” (Det.). There are two teams in SAIT, designated by lighter and dark colouring; one team is headed by HRP Det. Stephen McCormack, the other by RCMP Sgt. Linda Gray. RL is regular leave. HL is holiday leave. V is vacation. D is day shift. SD is special duty. Credit: Exhibit before the Police Review Board

So far as I can determine, there is just one detail in Smith’s story that is contradicted by the documentary evidence presented at the Police Review Board hearing: Smith says that during the three-day period of May 22-25, 2018 (the Tuesday-Thursday after Low’s assault), Const. Steve McCormack repeated Stienburg’s order to close the Low file, but a scheduling document shows that McCormack was on vacation that week.

Maybe Smith’s memory is wrong. Maybe the schedule is wrong. Maybe McCormack was in fact on vacation but checked in with the office and directed Smith anyway. I don’t think it’s the case, but maybe Smith is knowingly untruthful. So: I don’t know what to think of that discrepancy.

Still, aside from that one discrepancy, Smith’s account supports the following possible explanation:

• When Carrie Low reported being sexually assaulted, police looked at her CPIC and saw that she had previously ‘assaulted’ a cop, was interested in police firearms, and had multiple alcohol-related convictions, so police were inclined to disbelieve or discount her report.
• On Saturday night, sergeants were so overly concerned about a constable improperly videoing the scene at Doolittle’s (apparently more concerned about that than about Low’s report of being assaulted), that the video rose to outsized importance. They understood that that very intoxicated blonde-haired woman in the video was not being assaulted, she was being helped. And they incorrectly assumed the blonde-haired women in the video was actually Low.
• Then, as the weekend progressed, the woman in the video was conflated with J’s recantation of her false claim of being assaulted in the manner that Low had actually been assaulted.
• Out of that mix comes the wrong-headed conclusion that Carrie Low was lying about being sexually assaulted.
• Smith is told to close the Carrie Low file.

Is that absurd speculation? Three points:

First, consider that there is a long policing history of disbelieving women who report being sexually assaulted. On top of that comes “tunnel vision.” Those who study wrongful convictions name tunnel vision as a primary cause of police investigations gone wrong. Tunnel vision is when police become so convinced that their early theory of the case is true that all other possible explanations and all additional evidence is ignored or re-worked in such a way to support the first theory of the case.

In Low’s case, it could be that a general disinclination to believe sexual assault reports was coupled with an initial incorrect decision that Low was lying, but because of tunnel vision, police couldn’t disabuse themselves of the notion. That’s speculation, for sure.

But secondly, the explanation that police thought Low was lying is consistent with Jerell Smith’s account. Moreover, it would explain the lack of action taken on Low’s file.

Why did Const. Bojan Novakovic fail to pick up Low’s clothes Saturday night? Was it because he’s just a bad cop, or is it because it was decided the whole matter was nonsense?

Why did Smith fail to properly adequately investigate the matter? Was in because he too is a bad cop, or is it, as he says, he was pressured to close the file?

More concretely, thirdly, what of Novakovic’s and Smith’s supervisors? The only disciplinary action taken against officers related to the Low case has been against Novakovic, who was docked eight hours’ pay for failing to pick up Low’s clothes. The RCMP’s internal investigation found some fault with Smith’s investigation, but the imposition of a penalty was to wait until Smith’s return to work from medical leave, which will never happen.

Is it plausible that only Novakovic and Smith have failed on Low’s file?

In Novakovic’s case, there were at the least three supervisors — a quality assurance sergeant, a patrol sergeant (Naugle), and a shift supervisor — aware of Novakovic’s report on Low and who were charged with overseeing his actions on it. And yet none of the supervisors summoned a trauma-informed sexual assault investigator, and none of the supervisors ordered Novakovic to pick up Low’s clothes.

In Smith’s case, both his immediate supervisor — whether that be McCormack, as Smith says, or Plamondon, as Stienburg says — and Stienburg himself had the duty to oversee Smith’s handling of the Low file. Stienburg testified that he and the commanders at the CID discussed Low’s case at their weekly meetings, and yet no action was taken on the file for months and months.

And why didn’t the supervisors make an effort to search the East Preston property?

Novakovic, an HRPD cop, could not travel outside his jurisdiction to secure the crime scene, but Novakovic’s superiors could have asked their counterparts at the RCMP to do so, and then they could’ve worked collaboratively to secure a search warrant. And while Smith, an RCMP cop, took no action on the East Preston property either, it would have been up to his superiors to review the file and take action related to the property. None did so.

By the evidence of supervisorial inaction, it certainly makes sense that police as an institution considered Low an unreliable reporter of sexual assault.

After he was assigned the Low file on Tuesday, Jerell Smith collected video from Doolittle’s surveillance cameras. Smith watched Low through her time at the bar, which he characterized as just a normal person having a normal night at a bar, although he did see two men, Brent Julien and Alexander Thomas, in close proximity to Low, perhaps close enough to drug her drink. But Smith couldn’t see that interaction clearly enough to be certain.

Smith also called Low and arranged to meet her for an interview after she got off work.

On Wednesday, Smith interviewed Low’s work colleague who drove her to the hospital.

That is normal policing for the beginning of an investigation. But then, nothing happened.

Smith testified that he had to make an unrelated arrest on Wednesday, and as he was going on vacation at the end of his shift on Thursday, he asked that someone else be assigned to the Low file. He said he told Sgt. Steve McCormack that someone needed to pick up the evidence bag that Novakovic had left with Low. (Again, there’s some difficulty with that account, as the scheduling for that week shows McCormack was on vacation.)

Smith was on vacation for two weeks, and when he returned he found a series of voice messages left by Low, who was distraught and angry that no one had followed up on the case.

“So I went to speak with Steve McCormack, to ask him what had happened when I was gone,” said Smith. “And he just kind of gave a smirk.”

Smith maintains he was told not to speak with Low, but that he was still the lead investigator on her file.

But after Smith’s initial investigative steps on May 22 and 23, no obvious action was taken on Low’s file, except for when Low, acting alone, initiated it. For instance, it was only after Low complained that Novakovic finally went to pick up the evidence bag with her clothes in it, on May 29 — 10 days after the assault.

On July 12, more than two months after the assault, Low demanded to meet with the SAIT commander, Sgt. Linda Gray, to ask what was happening with the investigation. “We discussed different aspects of the case, and I assured the victim that Cst. Smith will be returning to duty on Tuesday and updating the file and locating Brent [Julien] for an interview will be first priority,” wrote Gray in a report. “As the writer [i.e. Gray] will be AOL [absent on leave] for two weeks, discussed with Sgt. McCormack for direction for next week.”

Carrie Low meets Emma Halpern

A smiling white woman with glasses and a sleeveless dark dress sits at a table with a beverage on it.
Emma Halpern, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, on July 21, 2023. Credit: Tim Bousquet

While Low was frustrated with police inaction on her assault file, she was additionally dealing with the domestic violence charge, related to the incident with her former boyfriend a month before the sexual assault. She had decided to go through the domestic violence court, which allows someone charged to attend a counselling program, and if they successfully complete that program, criminal charges are stayed.

So in August 2018, three months after she was assaulted, Low signed up for domestic violence counselling through the Elizabeth Fry Society; she had no previous relationship with the organization.

The Elizabeth Fry Society works with and provides support for women and non-binary people involved in the criminal justice system. It has an office in downtown Dartmouth and operates Holly House up the hill on Tulip Street; Holly House provides housing for women transitioning out of prison.

Emma Halpern, a lawyer who is the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, processed the paperwork for Low’s admission to the domestic violence counselling program.

Halpern tells me that she’s long been concerned about the “myths and stereotypes” that get applied to women charged with domestic violence.

“I’ll tell you,” says Halpern, “this is not on Carrie’s case, but I had another case where an officer had written, handwritten, ‘classic case of a woman scorned,’ you know, so that type of mentality.”

“In Carrie’s case, Carrie and I met and discussed her disclosure, and it says that she has done ’roundhouse style superpower punches,'” continues Halpern. “That would have been written by the police officer who’s taking the report from her ex. And I was like, what is that? First of all, how do you as an officer who’s just interviewing someone, how do you get that kind of like effusive language? Where does that come from? Even if the guy’s telling you that, you don’t put that in — that’s not fact. These are supposed to be fact, so like, ‘she hit me’, okay, but like ‘a super power punch’? But at the end of the day, I was like, okay, I’m going to meet this giant woman who can pull off super power punches, and in walks this tiny little diminutive blonde woman.”

That first conversation between Halpern and Low began routinely, with Halpern reviewing the disclosure with Low.

“A lot of the disclosure was totally hyperbolic and ridiculous, but in the context of that, I can tell Carrie’s not okay,” says Halpern. “And that’s when she tells me, ‘I can’t focus on this because this horrible thing, I was kidnapped and I was raped.'”

“And at this point, August, she’s mired in the bureaucracy of the police. So she’s juxtaposing these two things. On this other very minor assault, they’ve arrested her, she’s been brought in for questioning, they’ve moved it through to the crown. It’s already gone into the court. It’s already been processed by a prosecutor, and she’s already coming to me. And on this horrific rape and kidnapping, there’s been nothing.”

Halpern committed herself to working with Low on the police handling of her rape.

“And in many ways, this shaped a massive shift in E. Fry’s work,” continues Halpern:

Because up until then, we had always worked with people who had perpetrated crimes, you know, women and gender diverse people who perpetrate crimes, but we really hadn’t worked with people who had been victims of crime.

And out of Carrie’s case, for me, it was a bit of a light bulb moment around that intersection of women with vulnerabilities who are horrendously victimized, but then tend to be boxed in through stereotype and so on into being on the criminal side. And the minute you’ve done anything criminal, and Carrie’s record is very small, but still you get looked at through a different lens, in my view, by the by the policing systems. We created that dichotomy — you’re either a ‘bad guy’ or a ‘good guy.’ And the minute you’ve done anything that could consider you a ‘bad guy,’ you get put into that box.

There’s no question that there were all kinds of things in Carrie’s case — we’re not going to ever get the smoking gun where they put an email calling her a drunkard, a liar. But it makes sense.

I’m saying that after working with hundreds and hundreds of clients who were vulnerable women who tend to have addictions, who tend to have alcohol challenges, who might be out in a bar alone, who are racialized, who are indigenous, who might have a history with a record of some form — those women over and over and over again get put into the ‘bad guy’ box. And therefore their victimization is looked at through a very different lens than the stereotypical ‘good’ victim, the cute blonde 18-year-old from a good home who gets pulled into a woods.

“We’ve been really hesitant to talk about the fact that Carrie does have a criminal record,” adds Halpern, “because we don’t want the public to box her in either, or I don’t want the public to box her in.”

“You’re being more cautious on that,” interjects Low. “I wanted to bring it out Day One. For me, it’s always been about bringing the voices of the other women that don’t report because of their criminalization, because of their marginalization, because they know that there will never get justice in that system.”

Halpern and Low interact as people who have gone through battles together. They interrupt each other, finish each other’s sentences. They laugh knowingly about some untellable truth, then speak of weeks-long arguments. They touch each other’s arms and hold hands reflexively, just checking in.

I once watched the two women briefly discuss a man one of them had been dating, with meaning conveyed by a few words, but mostly with monosyllabic grunts, hand gestures, and tilted heads. I had no idea what they were saying; it was like witnessing cryptophasia, a secret twin language

“She has been like a sister,” says Low of Halpern. “I don’t have family. So she has sort of stepped in and provided that for me. We don’t always see eye to eye. We fight like sisters sometimes. But she trusts in all of my decisions and I trust her and all of her advice. And that’s why we work so well together.”

Battling for justice

Halpern, a lawyer, helped Low navigate the byzantine legal systems built around supposed police accountability systems, and connected Low to other lawyers who represented Low pro bono.

Halpern calculates that through the years, the lawyers have contributed somewhere between $600,000 and $800,000 in free services working for Low.

“Who could ever afford that?” asks Halpern. “Who? It’s not sustainable for everyone in Carrie’s shoes to have to do this pro bono. So we have to figure this out as a system.”

Even with free legal help, it was a slow, tedious, and labourious process.

In September, Jerell Smith again interviews Low, apparently at the direction of McCormack, who in turn was told to get back on the file by Gray. This is Low’s second videotaped interview with Smith, and her third interview with police, including the interview with Novakovic at the hospital.

Also that month, Smith interviews J, the woman who falsely claimed she was assaulted in the manner that Low had been assaulted. But a transcript of the interview shows that J was not asked about that false claim, only about what Low had told her earlier in the evening.

But then again, nothing.

In February 2019, Andrea McNevin, a lawyer working for Low, called Sgt. Don Stienburg to complain that no one had contacted Low recently. Stienburg told McNevin that Jerell Smith was no longer on the case and that RCMP Const. Steve Rideout was now the lead investigator.

On April 10, 2019, Low again gave a videotaped interview, this time with Rideout. This was her fourth interview with police, the third on videotape. Low says the multiple interviews, in which she was asked to recount the details of her assault, were a form of re-victimization. And, she now believes they were an attempt to trip her up and discredit her by finding contradictions between the various accounts. I’ve read the interview transcripts, and they are consistent with each other; Low’s account has never varied.

Also that day, Rideout told Low that the clothes she had put in an evidence bag and that weren’t collected by police until 10 days after the assault had still not been sent to the lab for testing, almost a year after the assault. Rideout said Jerell Smith had submitted the wrong form with the evidence. (The clothes ended up having DNA evidence on them, but it was too small a sample for testing by the first lab they were sent to; a second lab identified the DNA as belonging to Alexander Thomas, but that identification was not made until January 2021.)

On April 23, 2019, Low received back from police a document she requested through the Freedom of Information Act. That document was the HRPD’s Policy on Investigating Sexual Assaults. Low realized then that the investigation into her assault was not just slipshod, but also that it violated policy.

She then filed a formal complaint against the police. But because of the dual nature of the integrated investigative units like SAIT, she had to file two identical complaints — one complaint with the RCMP, which would be handled internally within the RCMP bureaucracy, and a second complaint with the Nova Scotia Police Complaints Commissioner, which has jurisdiction over the Halifax Regional Police Department.

The complaint details the actions of the police officers she dealt with — Novakovic, Smith, Rideout — but not their superiors, who she could not know of. The complaint additionally lays out general policing failures — the failure to search the East Preston property, the failure to quickly collect her clothes, the failure to send the clothes to a lab for nearly a year, among others.

But each was handled differently. The RCMP allowed Low’s complaint to be processed internally, as it had been filed within the one-year requirement to file such complaints, and eventually the force found fault with Const. Jerell Smith.

The Nova Scotia Police Complaints Commissioner, however, rejected Low’s complaint, saying that the complaint had to be filed within six months of the alleged wrongdoing, and Const. Bojan Novakovic’s involvement with the file was limited to May 2018.

Holly House

A two-and-a-half storey white house, with greenery on either side.
Holly House Credit: Tim Bousquet

In September 2019, Low asked the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a judicial review of the Complaints Commissioner’s decision. The court filing was the first time the press became aware of Low’s case, and so Low was suddenly a public figure. And immediately, she started hearing from other women who had their own bad experiences with police after being sexually assaulted — “hundreds and hundreds of women,” says Low.

The attention was unsettling in itself, as were the stresses of learning about other women’s experiences, but additionally “a person starting to harass me and kept showing up at my house all hours of the night,” says Low.

Between Low’s emotional struggles and a fear for her safety, Halpern invited Low to live at Holly House, the Elizabeth Fry’s Society home previously used only for women coming out of prison.

“Our house is not designed for the Carrie Lows,” explains Halpern. “But Carrie Low was not safe in the place where she was. And so she came and stayed where there was 24/7 staffing and cameras, and that helped. I guess that’s one of the beauties of E Fry. We look at the person and the issue, but we don’t silo it. So it starts with Carrie is going through domestic violence support as a quote-unquote perpetrator. Okay. But we can’t even deal with that if we don’t deal with the fact that she was horrifically victimized and is in this system. So in order to get to the reason she came in, we have to first look at that. But we can’t even look at the victimization unless we first deal with the fact that she’s not safe in her house.”

“I ended up staying there for five, six months,” says Low. “So, you know, living with and working with some of the most criminalized women in our community. Of course, I was exposed to a lot of their trauma and really seeing the need for women who couldn’t go get sort of the — I don’t even want to say traditional, but what society puts out for where we need to get help.”

In November 2019, Jerell Smith contacted Low and told her that he had been ordered off her file. That was the first time she heard Smith’s story.

On January 27, 2020, Low filed a civil lawsuit against the Halifax Regional Police Department. The very day the lawsuit was filed, police began looking at her file with renewed intensity — there are dozens of entries in the Versadex file dated January 27, 2020. Once again, it took Carrie Low pressing to get action on her case.

On February 12, Alexander Thomas was charged with assaulting Low.

The stresses on Low were at times overwhelming. “I knew I wasn’t in a good space because of everything that was going on with Jerell and the police, and it was just compounding and compounding,” says Low. “And I was getting nowhere in these systems. Nothing was moving forward.”

On April 8, 2020, Justice Ann E. Smith issued her decision on Low’s appeal of the Police Complaints Commissioner rejection of Low’s complaint. Smith ruled that Low’s complaint did not exceed the six-month requirement because Low was complaining not just about the actions of Novakovic, but also about the police department’s actions months after the assault, and that Low didn’t even discover those faults until April 2019. Smith ordered the commissioner to reconsider Low’s complaint.

This was a victory on paper, but for Low, it meant continued struggle.

“It progressively got worse,” says Low of her mental health. “And then in August was an actual suicide attempt. I took a bunch of pills. My daughter came over to visit and found me, called 911.”

Low was taken to the QE2 hospital, and says she woke up in a room equipped only with a chair. “I decided to go out for a cigarette.”

But she was stopped by a male security guard.

“He grabs me, and this is summertime, so I have flip flops on and he starts dragging me down the hall. Next thing you know, there’s another one and then one behind me and they threw me on a gurney. There’s men on me and I’m yelling that I’m a victim of a sexual assault. My skirt’s now lifted up, so my everything is exposed, I’m screaming. And then one of the security guards put his elbow in my neck to stop me from moving. And next thing you know, I wake up in a gurney in another room.”

From that nadir of despair, Low picked herself up and considered her situation. She thought of Halpern’s work with criminalized women. She thought of the women she had lived with at Holly House. She thought of how societal institutions had failed not just herself but also many, many other women.

In October 2020, Low started an organization she named Survivors for Change and Empowerment. She works with women fighting their own battles with police and in the courts, helping them navigate systems, and simply being a caring voice.

Survivors for Change and Empowerment is sponsored by the Elizabeth Fry Society, which helps find funding, but Low runs the organization as she decides.

In July 2021, Low started working with reporter Maggie Rahr on the CBC podcast. Low and Halpern alerted the Crown to podcast, to see if the Crown had any concerns.

“Not once did they tell me there was a publication ban, that I couldn’t do this, not one time,” says Low. “And then September 1st, I get a call from Maggie. CBC just got an email with a letter saying you can’t do this podcast as there’s a publication ban on Carrie Low.”

“I know on Carrie’s file, what I’ve observed with Carrie and then with some of the other women I’ve worked with since,” says Halpern, is that if you are a survivor who is going through this system, who wants to be able to be public and work with me or tell your story, then you are painted very quickly as being difficult, challenging, and against the system. Which is a real problem to me. This idea that the people sharing their own stories so that we can learn and change is somehow contrary to the system and the system’s method and mandate is really problematic.”

In October 2021, Low went to court and was successful in getting the publication ban rescinded.

Since then, Low has been working with My Voice, My Choice, an effort to amend the rules around publication bans.

“You could be criminalized for sharing your your own story with your therapist, with your family, with your friend,” explains Low. “So if you need to share it for it with a legal advocate or with family, you’re criminalized. [The proposed legislation] is going to remove that piece. But the other piece is that the Crown actually has to consult with the victim, survivor, and also streamlining the process so we actually don’t have to go to court, file a hearing, get a court date, go through this whole rigmarole to get it lifted.”

The legislation has passed the House of Commons and now is with the Senate.

‘That’s your answer’

On November 13, 2021, Alexander Thomas, the man charged with assaulting Low, was murdered.

Three months later, Brent Julien was charged with sexually assaulting Low, and the difference between how men and women are treated in the criminal justice system came into stark contrast for Low.

Julien had multiple criminal convictions, many of which were for assault, and he had no fixed address. Still, after Julien was arrested, he was released without bail, and with no conditions except for not contacting Low.

“We have women sitting in Burnside on shoplifting charges because they have no fixed address to go to,” says Low. “This guy was just let out and it’s right on this undertaking that he has no fixed address. This is how unserious they take these crimes and like, it blows my fucking mind.

Low was so upset about Julien’s release that she called the lead investigator in her case, who was then Brian Fitzpatrick, and asked Fitzpatrick why Julien was released. Low recorded the call and shared it with me; here’s the conversation, edited for clarity:

Brian Fitzpatrick: Fitpatrick.

Carrie Low: Hi, Brian. It’s Carrie Low calling.

Brian Fitzpatrick: Hi Carrie. How are you? 

Carrie Low: I’m doing okay. How are you doing?

Brian Fitzpatrick: Not too bad.

Carrie Low: Good… So I just wanted to follow up because you weren’t available, and I know your schedule, you don’t work Friday, so that was all related to me. But I was hoping you were going to be there because I did have a question, and this question is this. So I want to understand how Brent Julien is released without bail and without any conditions on an undertaking with no fixed address on a sexual assault. And the reason I ask is because it has come to light through the media that this person has 45 convictions, 11 which are assault. So I’m kind of wondering what that means. Why? Why is that? Because to me, it seems… like, I don’t matter. So I just kind of want to get your thoughts on that.

Brian Fitzpatrick: Okay. So the reason why he was released on another case was with his criminal record, it was it has to do with failure to appear in court. He doesn’t have any. 

Carrie Low: And he doesn’t have any. So I’m just trying to understand because I, you know, with the work I do closely with Elizabeth Fry, we have women who have no criminal records sitting on remand for shoplifting. But yet on a sexual assault charge doesn’t warrant being in front of a judge with criminal convictions? I just want to understand that, where that decision came about…. So I kind of want to understand how a sexual assault, which to me is quite a severe charge, doesn’t warrant someone being in front of a judge with a history that Mr. Julien has. 

Brian Fitzpatrick: So it does have to do with failure to appear, so primary grounds on whether he’s going to attend court or not. 

Carrie Low: Okay. 

Brian Fitzpatrick: And myself, I look at an undertaking as a very strong document, so the conditions are no contact and if those conditions are breached, he’s arrested. So it was my decision to use that undertaking. And it’s you know, it’s on the system and it’s being monitored. But, you know, it did have to do with his failures to appear in court. 

Carrie Low: Wow. Okay. Okay. I guess, yeah, that’s your answer. 

There’s a clarity in that last comment, “I guess, yeah, that’s your answer,” that seems to define Low. As we talk, I realize Low has entered a state of peace with her role in the world. Something will go wrong with her case and she gets sidelined but wipes herself off and continues on. This happens over and over again.

‘Survivors for survivors’

A white woman wearing white sits next to dark wooden doors, with a stack of papers before her.
Carrie Low discusses her case in a board room at the Elizabeth Fry Society office on July 21, 2023. Credit: Tim Bousquet

A couple of times in our conversations, I ask Low what she does for fun, but she avoids the question and moves on to discuss something else. It’s clear that through her experiences, Low has learned to closely guard her private life. Understood. But I still worry that her life has become unidimensional, and that can bring its own form of privation.

Low disabuses me of the notion. “I’m in a good place,” she assures.

And the work brings its own rewards. Through Survivors for Change and Empowerment, Low has assisted about a hundred women.

“I have a lot of things in the works and and right now my dream, you know, is to take Survivors for Change and Empowerment into its own organization and foundation of some way, which solely goes back to the grassroots feminists — by survivors for survivors — and helping them from Day One,” says Low. “I will never be able to provide therapeutic services, unfortunately, but I want to help those navigating their way because it is a complete maze of a system and there is no one there to help us in the system.”

“And ultimately I would love to have my own Holly House because there are a lot of women who have been displaced and put into homelessness due to their assaults and having to leave their home because maybe their partner was the one who raped them or whatever the situation is, and finding they’re now homeless, displaced and nowhere to go.”

As we’re wrapping up our interview, I ask Low to zoom out and think about the arc of her life. “How do you look at yourself growing and changing over the course of these 25 years?” I ask.

I’ll let Low’s response close out this article:

One of the changes I’ve seen in myself has been realizing I can never touch alcohol again. It’s just a poison. I hate it. I never will. Removing that changed my life in and of itself.

And then I found myself in the ways that were — this is where I needed to be.

I’ll take you back. I remember I supported a woman. This was my first experience supporting a woman in court. And I remember meeting with her, her parents, and the Crown. And I was so proud at how I could separate myself and be in that professional role with calmness. I was like, ‘this is it; this is where I need to be, and this is my calling.’

Because when it comes to my shit, I’m a bat out of hell — I’m angry, I’m upset, my emotions are going to come to it. Yes, I carry the emotion of others, but I’m there to protect them. I’m there to help them and I’m there to guide them. So I found myself in all of this, knowing that this is where I need to be.

I’ve been a mother to daughters. I now have granddaughters. And this is this is where I need to be. I need to help women going through this process. And that was that solidifying moment, knowing that I can do this work and not carry my own trauma and my own experience with it. 

You know, I still have a hard time. I consistently hear how strong I am and how resilient I am, but I still don’t see myself in that way. My therapist will kick me in the ass later because she always does, but I’ll say it: I believe that this happened to me for a reason. And it happened to me because I am one of those people. When I put my mind to something, I don’t stop. Right? 

The word ‘tenacious’ has been used to describe me all my life. Even in my career before this, I was a workaholic, dedicated to my job, making sure I did everything right. I faced some insecurities, but I was able to be secure with myself in working.

Now, doing the work that I’m doing, I don’t necessarily think I’m as strong as some people think because I don’t know how many times I’ve said, ‘I quit, I’m fucking done this, I’m walking away.’ But then I come back.

I don’t know how many nights I’ve cried, how many times I’ve sat terrified. A couple of years ago, New Year’s Eve, I was literally hiding in my closet because the fireworks were going off and someone in my neighbourhood had these cherry bombs. I thought someone was going to fucking shoot me. So people don’t see that side of the trauma, right? They didn’t see the side where I couldn’t sleep for days and my hair was falling out. I’m crying all the time. But I still get back up and I’m still fighting.

I found myself in this work and I found — like I said before, I never connected with women. Now I connect with women in a way that is so meaningful, and women look up to me, and I can find that connection with women. We work well together. I never thought I could do that before. So I really, truly found myself in this work.

It’s unfortunate how it had to be such a horrible experience to go through, but I am happy with myself today and I’m proud of myself. And I know that this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life, no matter how long it takes. I can’t not do it. I just can’t not. How could I walk away now? And that’s what keeps me getting up every day, no matter how tired I am and how much I want to quit and just be like, ‘fuck this shit.’ But it’s not worth quitting because I have been through hell.

But I will, I will.

I will see this out to the end. 

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon