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Reaction pours in following RCMP report into Central Okanagan sexual assault investigations

Reaction pours in following RCMP report into Central Okanagan sexual assault investigations
Police in Kelowna will be making changes to how they handle sexual assault investigations following a national RCMP review. Data showed that about 40 per cent of sexual assault cases in Kelowna were deemed unfounded in 2018, well above the provincial average of 15 per cent.

The Kelowna RCMP detachment is making changes to the way it handles sexual assault investigations.

Additional measures will be put in place following a national RCMP review into the unusually high number of sexual assault cases that were dismissed by Kelowna RCMP in 2018.

“I hope it will make things better for the ones who want to come forward,” Heather Friesen told Global News.

Friesen said she was the victim of a sexual assault 30 years ago.

READ MORE: RCMP respond to outrage over sexual assault complainant asked if she was ‘turned on’

Among the additional resources being added to investigate sexual offences will be a new sexual assault unit, which will provide support to frontline officers to ensure all sexual assault investigations are consistent, complete and accurately documented, the RCMP says.

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“A sexual assault unit on the Kelowna RCMP is obviously a good thing, so yes I am excited and pleased with that,” Friesen said.

Statistics Canada data showed that about 40 per cent of sexual assault cases in Kelowna were deemed unfounded in 2018.

That’s compared to the provincial average of 15 per cent.

The review into that troubling finding has now resulted in 12 cases being re-opened. Another 29 were re-examined, and while they were deemed founded, they will not be re-investigated due to what police said are complex issues.

“The investigations will be done to a higher standard which they deserved in the first place,” Kelowna mayor Colin Basran said.

READ MORE: ‘It’s appalling’: Women’s advocates outraged Kelowna RCMP dismissed nearly 40% of sex assault complaints last year

While Kelowna’s mayor is concerned to learn those investigations weren’t adequately investigated in the first place, Basran said he’s satisfied measures are being taken to improve.

“It’s clear by the report there’s work to be done to be better and steps are being taken to make sure that these investigations are done to a higher level,” he said.

Some of the other measures being implemented involve more training for officers on sexual consent law, trauma-informed practices and bias awareness, according to the RCMP.

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The Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society, an organization that supports victims of sexual assault, said it’s about time additional resources are put in place to help officers investigate sexual offences.

“Other communities with low unfounded rates are bigger centres that have specialized training and specialized response,” said executive director Michelle Novakowski.

Kelowna sexual assault survivor happy with mediation talks
Kelowna sexual assault survivor happy with mediation talks

She added that with better training, the rate of unfounded sexual cases will continue to go down, but not overnight.

“It will take time for the training to spread, for some of the cultural myths that are throughout society, for individual officers, to have those dispelled,” Novakowski said. “It’s going to take time but I think even a year down the road we will see a difference . . . because of the training and being able to investigate better.”

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Global News reached out to Kelowna RCMP for comment but did not hear back by publication time.