Homeless man assaulted by Halifax police officer says justice has been done

Patrice Simard says he’s now free of his constant worry that he would receive justice.

Homeless in Halifax in February 2018, Simard was punched in the face by a Halifax Regional Police officer and suffered a broken nose outside a men’s shelter.

In his first interview, Simard, 55, told CBC News that Const. Gary Basso’s conviction of assault causing bodily harm on Wednesday was “liberation” and he now believes there’s justice for people who are marginalized.

“I’m happy about the judgment,” said Simard, now in Quebec. “I believe now [there’s] justice.”

That criminal accountability, he believes, was possible because the assault was captured on video.

“I was a homeless [person] versus a police officer,” said Simard, who speaks English as a second language. “[He had] more and more power than me. They believe him before me.”

The shelter’s surveillance camera recorded the assault. Judge Laurel Halfpenny-MacQuarrie of the Nova Scotia provincial court said it offered key evidence that led to the officer’s conviction.

Simard, who had been in Halifax for just four months, was staying at the Metro Turning Point shelter.

An alcoholic, Simard was drunk and caught drinking in his bunk, which is a violation of shelter rules. He was ordered to leave and police were called.

But Simard had nowhere to go, so he sat outside the shelter and waited for police with the hope he would be placed in the drunk tank where he figured he’d be safe

This photo of Patrice Simard, photographed days after the assault, was evidence in Basso’s trial. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

The video, which has been seen thousands of times, and even published on a news website in the U.K., shows Simard on his knees, Basso putting on gloves, grabbing Simard by the shoulder and waving Simard’s backpack in front of him. Basso then punches Simard in the face.

Simard ended up on the ground with a broken nose.

He has no memory of the assault. When he saw the video in court, he broke down.

Simard has watched video several times

Since the video’s release, he’s watched it several times, but Basso’s aggression still leaves him in disbelief. He calls it an abuse of force.

“[There was] no reason for [him to] react like that, because I did nothing wrong. I just asked to [get] some help because it was the plan to get a safe place for the night,” said Simard.

“Why he don’t ask for backup, or some help, or some medical attention. I think we would not be here today,” said Simard.

In court, Basso claimed Simard hit him first and he responded by punching Simard in self-defence, which could be considered a reasonable use of force by police.

“I think I would lose — it would be not guilty without the video,” Simard said.

He said he’s grateful for the vindication he’s won in court. The charge was laid by the Serious Incident Response Team, the police watchdog in Nova Scotia.

Simard believes the court finding is a rare achievement for marginalized people in the country.

‘They just shut their mouth’

He’s heard from many who have had bad experiences with police officers, but without the same outcome.

“They just shut their mouth and they say nothing because they think they can do nothing,” he said.  

With the guilty ruling against Basso, Simard said he can now concentrate on rebuilding his life after the ordeal of the last 16 months.

In a still from surveillance footage, Halifax police officer Const. Laurence Gary Basso is seen punching Patrice Simard outside Metro Turning Point shelter in February 2018.

He’s trying to recover after sinking into a depression and consuming even more alcohol as he nine spent months waiting for the trial to begin.

“Halifax was a horrible experience for me.”

During what has become a daily routine, Simard found out about Basso’s conviction by hopping on to a free computer at a community centre for seniors.

“Everyday, everyday, I go on internet and print Gary Basso, Gary Basso,” said Simard, “Now I know it’s over.”

Simard, who receives a CPP disability benefit after an injury in the oil patch four years ago, is hoping to move out west and “live outside in nature” and away from the chaos of hostels and shelters.

He will search Basso’s name again on Oct. 7, the day Basso is scheduled to be sentenced.

“I don’t know what he can get but that changes nothing for me now,” said Simard. “I think it’s not good news for him.”

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