'Sign the bail system is failing.' Questions raised in release of N.S. murder suspect

HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia murder case is raising questions from the Crown attorneys' association over why the suspect was released on bail despite earlier charges of assaulting the woman he is now accused of killing.

Hollie Marie Boland of Dartmouth, N.S., died from injuries she suffered Monday after she was struck by a car in a hit-and-run in the Halifax suburb of Cole Harbour.

Brian Cox, president of the Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys' Association, said the case is concerning because the prosecution had opposed the release of Aaron Daniel Crawley at a June 14 bail hearing.

“I think our first reaction to this case is heartache," Cox said in an interview Wednesday. "It’s our view that when an intimate partner is killed while an alleged offender is out on bail, the bail system is obviously failing."

Crawley has been charged with first-degree murder. He was in court Wednesday when the case was put over until Nov. 29.

"This victim was a real person with a real family and children," Cox said. "We're going to be fighting for their justice, right alongside the public in this matter."

Court documents say the 33-year-old accused was facing previous charges for assaulting Boland on May 24, after he allegedly struck her with a car. He was also charged with choking her on June 8.

Provincial court Judge Brad Sarson approved Crawley's release on conditions he stay away from Boland and four other people, not drive and remain at his father's home, except when going to his job or travelling for appointments. The accused also pledged to post a surety of $6,200.

The Boland family issued a statement Wednesday saying they were grieving the loss of their "Holly Dolly," who was described as a "wonderful mother, dedicated and caring friend."

"We feel at this moment the system failed Hollie, and if they hadn't, she would still be here with all of us and her babies."

On Thursday, the prosecutor in Crawley's case, Eric Taylor, said the Crown had urged the court to hold Crawley because of "an escalating pattern of violent behaviour and indications the complainant (Boland) was frightened for her life."

The province's public prosecution service has said Crawley was charged with dangerous driving and assaulting Boland with a weapon on May 24. He was released on an undertaking to appear in court at a later date.

Despite being ordered not to have further contact with Bolland, Crawley was charged with assaulting and choking her on June 8, as well as breaching his release conditions.

Earlier this week, police issued a statement saying a "Good Samaritan'' in Cole Harbour had tried to help Boland on Monday when she was being allegedly held against her will by Crawley. Investigators say that when the Good Samaritan intervened, she and Boland were allegedly knocked to the ground by Crawley's car.

Boland later died in hospital. The woman who had intervened suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Taylor said after Crawley was released from custody on June 14, the Crown refused his request to have contact with Boland.

Linda MacDonald, an activist with the group Persons Against Non-State Torture, said the accused shouldn't have been released, given his record.

"I know there's a big push now for rehabilitation and restorative justice, and that's all fine for men that are at that stage of being willing to be rehabilitated. But there is a population of men that are extremely violent ... and I think that's what prison is for," MacDonald said in an interview Thursday.

Ann de Ste Croix, provincial co-ordinator of the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, said some of the circumstances described in the earlier allegations raised red flags.

"There's a higher risk of femicide when the occurrence of choking an strangulation between partners is considered," she said in an interview Thursday.

She pointed to figures from the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women that say 35 women were murdered by their intimate partner between 2002 and 2021.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2023.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: An earlier version incorrectly stated the accused had killed the victim, when in fact the accused is facing charges in the death. An earlier version also incorrectly said an interview with Ann de Ste Croix took place Friday.