Victoria Paul died on Sept. 5, 2009, at the age of 44.
Truro Police Chief Dave MacNeil said it's been a difficult journey for Paul's family since her death and that the police service, in discussion with the Department of Justice, made the referral.
"Understandably they still have some questions and hopefully this will help lay those to rest," said MacNeil. "There have been two reviews done on this case and after looking at those, neither addressed whether there was enough evidence for criminal charges.
"The family remains concerned about that."
Paul died in hospital of a stroke days after she was left unattended in police cells. She had been arrested for public drunkenness.
Justice Minister Ross Landry had ordered a review following one by the Halifax Regional Police. The independent review found that police didn't properly monitor Paul's health while in custody and she wasn't medically assessed or taken to hospital until 10 hours after she was placed in cells.
The review found that Paul was left lying on the cement floor in her own urine for four hours.
She was arrested on Aug. 28 and taken to the hospital the following day. Her family made the decision to take her off life support and she died on Sept. 5.
Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, was happy to receive notice the case has been referred.
“We knew the limitations of the two reports and we knew the findings gave sufficient evidence that could warrant criminal charges,” she said while on her way to visit Paul’s family. “Normally someone would take something to the police and the Public Prosecution Service for charges, but when I took it to the RCMP they were under the impression that criminal charges were already looked at. I’m glad that they have referred it.”
Although she was on her way to deliver a copy of the letter she received about the referral, Maloney said she talked to Paul’s father and sister on Monday.
“I don’t think he was expecting to hear from me because it’s been quiet for so long, but as soon as he heard, he said, ‘Oh my God, thank you.’ They were both quite happy we’re having this looked at and not letting this go.”
In the independent report released last spring, it said Paul settled down and fell asleep after she was brought to the jail cell. But three hours later, she fell off her bunk onto the floor "and continued to move around as if in distress," the report said.
When the officer in charge of the lockup visited her cell nearly five hours after she was jailed, Paul's underpants had partly fallen off, she had lost control of her bladder and was incoherent.
“It was not normal practice to place and leave a person in custody on the floor for over four hours, not normal practice to leave a person in custody in contaminated clothing,” the report said.
“It was not normal practice to allow a person in custody to lie in his or her urine for an extended time.”
The province's medical examiner determined that the stroke likely occurred while Paul was in custody and was so severe that she wouldn't have survived even if she'd been immediately treated.
With files from the Canadian Press.