UPDATED: What we know—and don’t know—about the Christmas Eve homicide, so far | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
Police responded to reports of a disturbance at Brunswick and Prince Streets around 1:15am on the morning of Dec. 24. Ryan Michael Sawyer, 31, was found unresponsive by first responders. He died later that morning.

UPDATED: What we know—and don’t know—about the Christmas Eve homicide, so far

A developing timeline of events surrounding Ryan Michael Sawyer’s death downtown outside the Halifax Alehouse on Dec. 24, 2022.

Halifax police are sharing few details after Ryan Michael Sawyer, 31, of Ajax, Ontario was killed in downtown Halifax early on the morning of Christmas Eve outside the Halifax Alehouse.

The Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service has ruled Sawyer’s death, which stemmed from a reported “disturbance involving several people,” as a homicide. Police have yet to announce any criminal charges linked to his killing—nor share the identity of who killed him. But between police statements and eyewitness accounts to The Coast from those who were there at Brunswick and Prince streets, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of what unfolded and when.

What police have shared

The first written account from the scene of Sawyer’s killing comes from 1:15am on the morning of Dec. 24. The Halifax Regional Police says officers arrived at Brunswick and Prince then and found an “unresponsive man” on the sidewalk. That man was later identified as Sawyer. A police release from later in the morning on Dec. 24 says officers had been responding to a “disturbance involving several people”—though HRP has not elaborated on who else was involved, how many people were part of any “disturbance,” what prompted it or how Sawyer factored in. Police have also not made any reference to the Alehouse in relation to the night’s events, though photos from the night of the incident show police on the Alehouse’s upper floor. Numerous online accounts have indicated the incident involved an Alehouse bouncer. At this time, The Coast has not been able to substantiate those claims. The Alehouse has not responded to requests for comment.

Police say Sawyer was taken to QE2 Hospital in “life-threatening condition.” By the time the HRP issued a statement, roughly nine hours after officers had arrived on the scene outside the Alehouse, he had died. Halifax police took one man into custody on Dec. 24, HRP spokesperson John MacLeod confirmed to The Coast. That suspect was released the same day without charges. The investigation, MacLeod says, is “still ongoing.” MacLeod stressed that police are gathering evidence “to determine where that information will lead to.”

That, by and large, is the extent of what police have shared in the two-and-a-half weeks since Dec. 24. But thanks to eyewitness accounts from the early morning of Dec. 24, here’s what else we know:

‘Back up and get somewhere else’

Holly (not her real name) tells The Coast she was finishing work and walking back to her car at around 1:20am when she came upon the police scene outside the Alehouse. She estimates “maybe 3-5 minutes passed” between leaving work, turning from Market Street onto Prince and returning to her car, parked in a private lot on Brunswick. She remembers “two officers for sure,” one of whom was performing CPR on a man on the ground while the other assisted. A “decent lineup of people” was still waiting to get into the Alehouse, she says, lined from the side entrance on Prince up to Brunswick. Half of the line seemed “oblivious” to the man on the sidewalk. She estimates “at least 20 other people” were watching the incident from the surrounding sidewalks and street corners.

click to enlarge UPDATED: What we know—and don’t know—about the Christmas Eve homicide, so far (4)
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A few bar-goers stand outside the Halifax Alehouse around 1:50am on the morning of Dec. 24, 2022.

One source, who also asked to remain nameless, tells The Coast that the Alehouse continued welcoming patrons after the police arrived, but Holly says she “couldn’t say for sure” whether the bar was still letting people in. Both the Alehouse’s ownership and management have not responded to requests for comment.

“It didn’t really look like the line was moving,” Holly says, “but once EHS arrived (which was about the same time I got in my car) and geared up to get to the scene, one police officer was taping the scene off as the EHS supervisor SUV pulled in, while another officer got pretty assertive with people in the Ale line to back up and get somewhere else.”

Police in Alehouse, defibrillator pads packaging on sidewalk

John (also not his real name) tells The Coast he was out for his “nightly walk and toke” at around 1:30am when he saw the police lights flashing from the top of Prince Street. He walked over to see what had happened. By that time, the ambulance had already left for the QE2. Crowds outside the Alehouse had dispersed. He met a distraught server—“speculation on my behalf,” he says—at Prince and Market streets, where police had cordoned off the road and sidewalks leading up to Brunswick. The server didn’t have an answer when he asked what happened, John tells The Coast, “but emphasized I should try to stay safe.”

click to enlarge UPDATED: What we know—and don’t know—about the Christmas Eve homicide, so far
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Police lights seen from the bottom of Prince Street on the morning of Dec. 24, 2022.

John looped around to Sackville and lingered on the Citadel side of Brunswick Street. He could see police in the upstairs window at the Alehouse. He believes they were reviewing security footage. (Police have not elaborated on the matter.) He carried on walking down Carmichael Street to Grafton Street, where he turned back onto Prince. There, he came across a discarded CPR Stat Padz package. A Canadian Red Cross product page for the Stat Padz says they’re designed to be used with defibrillators.

click to enlarge UPDATED: What we know—and don’t know—about the Christmas Eve homicide, so far
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A CPR Stat Padz package was found discarded on Prince Street around 2am on Dec. 24, 2022.

Sawyer was in Halifax for World Juniors, source says

Those who knew Sawyer, 31, describe him as a “wonderful young man” and a “big hearted soul.” Friend and former coach John Cole remembers him as a “great athlete and even better person,” with an “infectious smile and a love for life.” Sawyer played hockey from childhood through his teen years. He spent his earliest years in Markham and Pickering, Ont., before relocating to Windsor, NS, for high school. He graduated from the private King’s-Edgehill School and went on to study business management at Dalhousie University.

click to enlarge UPDATED: What we know—and don’t know—about the Christmas Eve homicide, so far
dignitymemorial.com
Ryan Michael Sawyer, 31, was killed on Dec. 24, 2022. His death has been ruled a homicide, but police have yet to announce charges.

Sawyer is survived by his parents, Scott and Lee, and his twin brother, Kyle. At the time of his death, he was working as a vehicle planning supervisor for Nissan Canada in Mississauga, Ontario. It’s unclear how he ended up outside the Alehouse on the night of Friday, Dec. 23, but a source connected to the family tells The Coast that Sawyer and his brother were in Halifax to watch the World Junior Hockey Championship.

A memorial service for Sawyer drew a packed room at Halifax’s JA Snow Funeral Home on Jan. 6. Friends, family members, former classmates and hockey teammates flew in from across the country to grieve. Sawyer’s father, Scott, delivered a eulogy.

“When this happened, we lost our faith in humanity,” he told those gathered on Friday. “But what has pulled us through is you.”

Delivered the morning after Canada’s 3-2 World Juniors gold medal win over Czechia, Scott opened his eulogy by bringing out a Team Canada hockey sweater and encouraging those gathered to smile. “Ryan would’ve loved this,” he said.

No comment from Alehouse

It’s unclear from police reports whether Sawyer’s killing started with a dispute in the Alehouse or at one of the neighbouring bars, or how he ended up unresponsive on the Prince Street sidewalk on the morning of Dec. 24. The Alehouse, which sits at the corner of Brunswick and Prince, was open until 3:30am the night of Dec. 23/morning of Dec. 24. Buck Ugly’s, which borders the Alehouse on Prince, was open until 2am. The HFX Sports Bar & Grill, which borders the Alehouse on Brunswick, closed at 1am.

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Photo: Martin Bauman / The Coast
Police responded to reports of a disturbance at Brunswick and Prince Streets around 1:15am on the morning of Dec. 24. Ryan Michael Sawyer, 31, was found unresponsive by first responders. He died later that morning.

Several social media reports have linked the incident as having involved a bouncer at the Alehouse, but The Coast has not been able to substantiate those accounts at this time—and the HRP has declined to comment further.

“With any investigation,” MacLeod says, “we wouldn’t provide any information in relation to any of the individuals involved until we’re at a position where we’re laying charges, and those charges have been sworn before the courts.”

The Coast has reached out to the Alehouse by phone, email and in-person, asking whether Sawyer was a patron of the bar on the night of the incident and whether a bouncer was involved. We have yet to receive a reply. As of 1:20pm on Jan. 3, the Alehouse’s official Twitter account is private.

Liquor licensing complaint alleges Alehouse bouncers “overly eager” to resort to violence

A Dec. 25 complaint filed to Nova Scotia’s Alcohol, Gaming, Fuel and Tobacco division alleges that the Alehouse’s security staff, over the past near-decade, “have been overly eager to resort to violence.” Last August, footage surfaced of as many as four men—several wearing what appear to be bar staff shirts—pinning a man to the ground for close to two minutes outside of the Alehouse before turning him over to police. At one point, a man wearing a staff-emblazoned shirt employs what looks like a headlock.

The Coast is not aware of any police arrests or charges that stemmed from August’s incident and, to The Coast’s knowledge, the Alehouse has not been implicated by Nova Scotia’s courts in any wrongdoing related to violence. (In 2013, in a separate matter, a Halifax man won a human rights complaint against the Alehouse for racial discrimination.) We’ve asked the Alehouse’s ownership and management whether the bar’s door staff receive any specific training in dealing with patrons, and if they’re aware of a perceived culture of violence. The Alehouse has not responded to requests for comment.

What we still don’t know

We don’t know when HRP received the first call about a “disturbance” at Brunswick and Prince streets, nor do we know how quickly police responded. We also don’t know if the incident “involving several individuals” was still ongoing when police arrived, or if Sawyer was alone—or, for that matter, if there were others tending to him. We don’t know if any onlookers had already attempted to resuscitate Sawyer before police arrived, nor do we know how long he’d been unresponsive before emergency crews performed CPR on him. We don’t know what factors led the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service to rule Sawyer’s death a homicide. We don’t know who police arrested and released. We also don’t know how many people were involved in the initial “disturbance,” who killed Sawyer and whether any charges are forthcoming.

Do you know more about what happened on the night of Dec. 23? Send us an email at martin@thecoast.ca. We’ll never publish your name or any identifying details without your consent.

A note on anonymous sources: As a matter of journalistic principle, The Coast always strives for complete transparency in our reporting—and that includes full attribution for sources. On rare occasions, when the sensitivity of the story might impact a source, we offer anonymity—as we’ve done here. However, we always take complete measures to ensure the information’s accuracy.

About The Author

Martin Bauman

Martin Bauman, The Coast's News & Business Reporter, is an award-winning journalist and interviewer, whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Calgary Herald, Capital Daily, and Waterloo Region Record, among other places. In 2020, he was named one of five “emergent” nonfiction writers by the RBC Taylor Prize...

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