Court upholds decision to reinstate pay for Halifax police officer leading up to conviction

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge has upheld a decision by the province’s police board to reinstate the pay and benefits that a Halifax police officer should have received leading up to his conviction.

Const. George Farmer — an 11-year veteran of the Halifax Regional Police force — was charged with voyeurism, trespassing by night and breach of trust in connection with incidents at the Esquire Motel that took place between Nov. 23 and Dec. 3, 2017.

Farmer could be seen on camera repeatedly looking into occupied rooms and unscrewing lightbulbs around the hotel to appear less visible.

The former constable pleaded not guilty to the charges, claiming he was at the hotel to watch for drugs and prostitution and to ensure the safety of those inside. But Judge Chris Manning found Farmer guilty of all three charges on Jan. 18.

In a decision released Monday, it was revealed that Farmer was suspended with pay and benefits by the force on Dec. 6, 2017, just days after the allegations arose. The decision also shows that Farmer was fired by Halifax police Chief Jean-Michel Blais 60 days later, and his pay was terminated.

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Judge Jamie Campbell says Farmer appealed that decision, citing the presumption of innocence. He sought a review by the Nova Scotia Police Review Board, which inevitably ordered to have Farmer’s pay and allowances reinstated and continued until a ruling was reached.

The police department then asked for a judicial review of the board’s ruling, citing that it “failed to provide procedural fairness in the hearing because it refused to compel Const. Farmer to provide evidence of his family income and failed to draw a negative inference from his failure to provide that information.”

‘Trust issues’ a factor in Blais’ decision

The decision from Campbell reveals that, in part, Blais suspended Farmer’s pay and benefits after 60 days due to the seriousness of the allegations and because he felt there would be “trust issues” with other officers.

Blais also said he considered “the public interest and the higher standard expected of officers.”

“Chief Blais offered the opinion that to continue pay and benefits would erode public trust and that the public would ask why he should receive pay and benefits,” Campbell’s decision reads, referencing the police board’s ruling.

Presumption of innocence not considered

Upon cross-examination from the police board, it was found that Blais had not considered the presumption of innocence when deciding to suspend Farmer’s benefits, according to Campbell’s decision.

It was also found that Blais also did not consider commendations and public reports introduced on behalf of Farmer.

“(Blais) was aware of positive commendations but did not consider them,” Campbell stated.

“The board said that suspension of pay should be done in extreme circumstances where the member is clearly involved in the commission of an offence that is so outrageous as to significantly affect the proper performance of his duties.”

Campbell found that the police board also considered several other factors in its decision, including Farmer’s personal circumstances, the seriousness of the allegations, public interest, Farmer’s employment history and the nature of his role with the force.

But the police board particularly noted that the “foundational nature of the presumption of innocence” was not considered. Campbell concluded that the board was reasonable when it found that Farmer had a presumption of innocence and should have been paid to the date of his conviction.

“The decision is expressed in a way that makes the board’s reasoning clear and transparent to allow for meaningful review,” Campbell stated.

Farmer is slated to be sentenced next month.

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