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Police review board hearing concludes after testimony from 11 Cape Breton officers

Cape Breton Regional Police headquarters in Sydney. Jeremy Fraser/Cape Breton Post
Cape Breton Regional Police headquarters in Sydney. Jeremy Fraser/Cape Breton Post

A Nova Scotia Police Review Board hearing concluded Tuesday in Sydney after hearing testimony from 11 police officers concerning the tragic death of 17-year-old Nathan Joneil Hanna in June 2018.

Hanna was among several hundred teens to attend an outdoor graduation party in Leitches Creek on June 10 and shortly after leaving the party with a friend, was struck and killed alongside the road on Highway 223.

It has been a gruelling and emotionally draining two years since the accident for Hanna’s parents, Jennifer Hanna and John Parr, who have had numerous meetings with police over the last two years, sat through a lengthy preliminary hearing along with other court appearances including the dismissal of a charge against the driver.

Jennifer Hanna
Jennifer Hanna

“This was harder than the rest. It was rough,” said Jennifer Hanna, during an interview at the conclusion of the five-day hearing.

Hanna and her partner, Stephen Penny, said they feel the three-member board panel heard the testimony that needed to be addressed publicly.

John Parr
John Parr

The hearing was convened after a complaint alleging negligence by Cape Breton Regional Police in their investigation was filed by Parr.

“I think the process went well and I’m happy to have it over,” said Parr.

His complaint was first filed with regional police and was investigated by Halifax Regional Police. A final report concluded there was no disciplinary fault by officers with the Cape Breton force.

Parr appealed to the review board which ordered a public hearing.

The panel has reserved decision and a final report is hoped to be produced before the end of the year. The panel was chaired by lawyer Jean McKenna of Dartmouth, who is chair of the review board, Stephanie Myles, a Sydney lawyer and Nadine Bernard, also of Sydney.

“It’s now anxiety time again,” said Rachel Lucas, Parr’s partner, in noting the families have been through several processes trying to get a better understanding of just what occurred.

The driver of the vehicle, Kenneth Hayden Laffin, 23, was charged with obstruction of justice after initially failing to tell police he struck Hanna.

Const. Steve Sibley testified before the hearing that Laffin told him Hanna simply walked out into the middle of the road and collapsed.

Sibley and Const. Paul Ratchford both testified that Laffin exhibited no signs of impairment during conversations at the scene of the accident and was allowed to leave the scene after police seized the vehicle and received his necessary personal information.

The decision not to administer a breathalyzer test is a critical component of Parr’s complaint. The officers testified to having no reasonable grounds in which to ask Laffin to submit to the breath test. Other aspects of the complaint dealt with how police went about interviewing potential witnesses.

Laffin was committed to stand trial on the charge after a preliminary hearing but the charge was later dismissed after a further review of the case by the Public Prosecution Service.

"This was harder than the rest. It was rough." — Jennifer Hanna

The final witness to take the stand Tuesday was Sgt. Jack Burke, who was the lead investigator on the Hanna file.

Burke interviewed Laffin on June 11, 2018, during which he told the officer he was driving the vehicle and that Hanna was partially in the road and that he swerved to try and avoid hitting him.

“I had no reason to think there was a particular criminal charge. He (Laffin) was strictly a witness, a key witness,” said Burke.

Burke said several of the individuals he interviewed during the course of a seven-week investigation were required to be re-interviewed because of statements attributed to them on social media.

“We wanted to determine which were the accurate statements,” said Burke, in explaining why officers needed to repeat some of their interviews.

The final piece of evidence entered at the hearing Tuesday was a package of 13 witness statements.

Parr was represented at the hearing by Halifax lawyer Laura McCarthy while Demetri Kachafanas represented the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and Donald Peters represented the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union which represents unionized officers with the regional police.


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