The co-chair of restorative inquiry into the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children has been appointed as an observer as the province’s police watchdog investigates a police arrest that Santina Rao says left her with a broken wrist, a concussion and injuries to her neck and arms.
“I don’t have any power of laying charges,” Smith said in a phone interview. “I have powers of overseeing that the investigation is done properly and I have complete autonomy to speak on what my findings are.”
SiRT announced last month that they would investigate an incident that occurred on Jan. 15.
Rao, 23, alleges she was physically abused by Halifax Regional Police (HRP) after she was accused of “concealing items” at a Walmart on Mumford Road.
The mother of two told Global News she placed a bag underneath her children’s stroller and was putting items into it as she shopped. According to Rao, she paid for all her items at the electronics section except for her produce, which had to be weighed.
After paying for those items and then stopping at the toy section, Rao claims she was approached by HRP officers and Walmart staff, who claimed she was “concealing items.”
Rao says she urged officers and staff to check her bag, but they declined and asked for her identification. When she declined, Rao said officers used “excessive force” to put her in handcuffs.
A video shot by a bystander shows Rao being thrown to the ground. It has been widely shared on social media.
SiRT said they would investigate the matter after it was referred to them by the Halifax Regional Police.
SiRT’s mandate is to investigate incidents that may have “led to serious injury or death, or where those actions may raise a significant public interest.”
Smith said he was approached based on his work on the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children inquiry, addressing issues of systemic discrimination and institutional racism.
“[I’m] looking forward to getting to the bottom of the facts and hopefully this will give justice to the individuals who have been victimized,” said Smith.
Rao is scheduled to appear in Halifax Regional Court on Wednesday.
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