The Confusing Case of the Santina Rao row

By Mel Aye

Following her February 19 court appearance, Santina Rao gave an unequivocal “no” when asked if she was banned from Walmart property at the time of her arrest on January 15.

Speaking to my organ the following week Dartmouth lawyer Gordon Allen — who tells me he’s representing the 23-year-old on a pro bono basis — gives a slightly less definitive answer.

On whether or not the mother of two young children was under the constraints of a Protection of Property Act order at the time, the sole practitioner tells Frank he “can’t state absolutely that there isn’t,” although they haven’t seen any evidence of one.

Generally speaking, placing an order under the Protection of Property Act against someone means they are banned from your property. You don’t need a reason. If you break this order, you’re breaking the law and are liable to fines or worse.

Gordon tells me that the incident happened “all of a sudden.” Store security didn’t approach her, nobody asked her to leave because of a POP order, or asked her about the few bits of produce she was storing in her stroller while she made her way to the cash with her baby and toddler.

So “all of a sudden,” he says, she was surrounded by five bodies, including police acting as “defacto security guards for Walmart,” which inflamed the situation.

But why were police there at all, I ask. My cop sources say if store security calls HRP to report someone walking around the store with produce in her stroller, the answer would be simple: handle it yourself, that’s not a cop situation. Gordon agrees.

“We don’t know what Wal-Mart told police,” he admits.

Finding that out would go a long way toward piecing together why the cops were there in the first place. But he stresses, it wouldn’t explain why they reacted the way they did, and Santina sustained the injuries that she did.

The video shows a cop reaching for Santina, at which time she takes a swipe at him.

Their side of the story is that one of the cops tried to block her toddler from coming to her, at which time she reached out to protect her child. The video doesn’t appear to agree, but it is brief and shot from a bad angle.

The arresting officers are veteran Const David Clowater and Const. Josh Alarie, who has been on the force for two years. Rao has been charged with assault causing bodily harm to Clowater, resisting arrest and causing a disturbance.

Gordon Allen has an impressive track record in cases like this. The video of cops piled on top of a young mother might help Santina to a payday, no matter what facts are turned up in the SIRT investigation or the provincial court process.

“I think policing is tough and most do a good job. We think this was an egregious exception,” he told media 11 years ago after he secured $248K for his client, a 19-year-old Digby kid who was roughed up by police at a convenience store in 2002.

He said practically the same thing the other week, too. An effective talking point has its place, I suppose.

When Halifax municipal prosecutors went after an Evolve Festival organizer for putting up too many posters in 2011 but then dropped the charges, Gordon — again, representing the kid pro-bono — said he was disappointed, as he had a helluva free speech Charter argument to make.

That same year, he saved Miles Howe from an obstruction of justice charge stemming from Peter Kelly’s infamous decision to order HRP evict squatters in Victoria Park on Remembrance Day.

Nothing also came of the protester arrested in 2016 on Spring Garden Road for saying “fuck” during a march against Bill C-51, the so-called “anti-terrorism act,” thanks to Gord-O.

By the time Santina comes back to court in May, we should have the results of the SIRT investigation into this incident, along with the one concerning that other incident with the 15-year-old black kid in Bedford. We’ll be into prime protesting weather by then.

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella can hardly wait, I imagine.