Women’s rights advocates are speaking out against the Kelowna RCMP’s handling of sexual assault investigations after Statistics Canada data revealed the detachment dismissed sexual assault complaints at a rate far above the provincial average in 2018.
According to Stats Canada, 35 of the sexual assault cases that were reported to Kelowna RCMP last year were dismissed as unfounded, or nearly 40 per cent.
Vernon officers dismissed eight cases, nearly a quarter of all reported, and Penticton RCMP said 11 incidents were unfounded, which is about 38 per cent.
Those numbers are far higher than the provincial average of less than 15 per cent.
Women’s advocate Jo Scofield said the statistics are alarming.
“It’s kind of infuriating and it really leads back into the reasons that people don’t report as well,” she told Global News. “When you’re already aware that there’s a really good chance no one’s going to take you seriously, reliving all of that trauma is much more difficult.”
RCMP said in a statement that they are aware people may find the number of unfounded sexual assault files unsettling — and their sexual assault review team at national headquarters will review its unfounded files for 2018 and 2019.
The team of investigators and experts in gender-based violence was formed to review RCMP sexual assault files after the Globe and Mail’s “Unfounded” series was published in 2017.
“We understand that there are many questions about the roots of these statistics, and we’re taking immediate steps to get answers,” said Cpl. Meghan Foster of the Kelowna RCMP.
Foster said any files deemed not properly investigated will be re-opened for a second look.
However, Foster said the detachment is “not in a position” to explain why so many sexual assault cases were deemed unfounded by investigators in the Okanagan.
“For every investigation, there are many variables — each investigation is different and we do not want to deter any other survivors from bravely coming forward to report a sexual assault,” she said in a statement.
Earlier this year, the detachment came under national scrutiny after video surfaced of a Mountie aggressively questioning an Indigenous teen who was allegedly the victim of a sexual assault.
The woman is now suing the RCMP officer over a “malicious, degrading” and “victim-blaming” interview she gave while reporting a sexual assault in West Kelowna in 2012. The force promised a review of the matter.
Angela Marie MacDougall, the executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services based in Vancouver, said the West Kelowna case highlights a problem with the detachment’s investigative tactics.
“The West Kelowna case is I think a symptom of what is a pretty large disease of myths and problematic investigations with the RCMP in Kelowna,” she said.
MacDougall said 95 per cent of survivors of sexual violence don’t report to the police, and the statistics will discourage future victims from coming forward.
“It is something that is appalling, we expect better in the 21st century, however it is something that persists and to this point, unfettered with impunity,” she said.
Kelowna RCMP said anyone who feels their case was not investigated properly can go to their local police detachment and request a review of their file or make a complaint to Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP (CRCC) by going to their website: https://www.crcc-ccetp.gc.ca.