Twenty-four Haligonians are heading back to court for charges stemming from the August 18 shelter siege. That's when protesters at the old Spring Garden Road library site were arrested after police showed up to pepper spray and disperse the crowd, which had gathered against the eviction of unhoused people living at the site.
The charges range from resisting arrest to public mischief and assault of a police officer. Defense lawyer Asaf Rashid says he’s finally received what’s legally known as the disclosure—a file of evidence that’s supposed to back up the charges laid.
“I received further disclosure last week,” Rashid says in a phone call with The Coast on Tuesday. “There’s quite a bit of material so it’s going to take some time to go through it.”
At the first court date in October, Rashid says nothing much happened because police had yet to provide the disclosure, so the judge granted an extension until November. Then at the November court date, the police got another extension because they needed still longer to produce the information. But in court on Wednesday, December 1, it’ll be Rashid who’s asking for more time because of the amount of evidence he’s received.
“Everybody has the right to see the evidence against them and evaluate it before making any decisions,” he says. “More time will be needed, which is reasonable when there’s a sufficient amount of information to go through and it’s only been a week since getting it.”
Based on the disclosure of police evidence, each of the 24 defendants will be able to decide individually whether they want to go to trial or take a plea.
“Everyone has a right, whenever accused of any charge, to take the matter to trial,” says Rashid. “So it's very important to weigh that decision and decide what are the prospects for trial and basically to make an informed decision about that. So that's definitely one of the things that will be on everyone's mind.”
If they do decide to go to trial, the process will become even more lengthy. Rashid says he expects most of the cases to go into 2022 or even 2023.
“Hypothetically, something like this could take a very short amount of time, if everyone decided that they want to come to a resolution early,” he says. “Or it could take over a year, year and a half, in order to actually get to trial, especially if there are a lot of rights-based issues and a lot of defense evidence.”
But Rashid says there’s still a chance the police will drop the charges based on evidence of police misconduct that day.
The group Abolish the Police Halifax is of the same mind, and on Tuesday issued a press release with five demands:
- That all charges be dropped and the resources divested into housing initiatives
- That Halifax Regional Police acknowledge their wrongdoing and issue a public apology
- That city council acknowledge its role and also issue a public apology
- That police forces not be used to back illegal evictions
- That MLAs return for an emergency sitting of the legislature.
On December 1, people can gather outside the courthouse—coincidentally located across Spring Garden Road from the old library site—at 9:45am to show their support for the arrestees, and hear Rashid and other speakers discuss policing and the housing crisis.