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‘That was a terrifying experience’: Women describe reporting Kelowna RCMP officer for alleged abuse of power

Click to play video: 'Women describe reporting a Kelowna RCMP officer for alleged abuse of power' Women describe reporting a Kelowna RCMP officer for alleged abuse of power
WATCH: At least eight women have stepped forward with different stories about how Brian Burkett allegedly abused his powers on the job to sexually harass them, and many of the alleged victims say that reporting him was an intimidating and terrifying experience. Jules Knox reports. – Apr 21, 2021

Warning: This story contains graphic details that may be disturbing to readers. Discretion is advised. 

At least eight women have stepped forward with different stories about how Brian Burkett allegedly abused his powers on the job to sexually harass them, and many of the alleged victims say that reporting him was an intimidating and terrifying experience.

Because of the sexual nature of the allegations, several of the women’s names in this story have been changed to protect their identities.

Burkett allegedly started sending sexually explicit text messages to Kate, a domestic violence victim, after responding to her case.

“They were very threatening in their style. They were meant to be a power move, and I knew what they meant,” she said.

Read more: ‘He tested the waters with me and got away with it’: Alleged victims of former RCMP officer claim his behaviour escalated

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“There was nobody for me to call. I couldn’t call the cops,” she added.

Kate turned to the Elizabeth Fry Society, a non-profit organization supporting women.

“I think something people have to remember is that when you’re inside of being groomed for sexual assault, you don’t realize you’re being groomed for sexual assault,” Kate said.

“So I felt uncomfortable but I couldn’t name what was going on.”

Read more: ‘I was afraid’: Women describe former RCMP officer’s alleged abuse of authority

To be clear, Kate does not allege that Burkett forced her to have sex with him or that the two had physical contact.

She said she showed Elizabeth Fry the sexually explicit messages from the constable, and her counsellor took the messages seriously.

“Elizabeth Fry Society was aware of him,” Kate said. “They instantly recognized the danger to me, and they instantly told me that I wasn’t alone in this conversation about Brian Burkett.”

Kate said she was told several sergeants would be coming from out of town to take a statement from her.

Read more: Lawsuit accuses former Kelowna RCMP officer of sexual assault

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“I didn’t want to be a part of it. I said no, I said I am afraid. I don’t want to talk about this,” Kate said. “I want to move on with my life. I fear this person.”

But Kate eventually agreed to speak with the police, and she was taken to the Kelowna detachment, where officers from the Vancouver area came to take her statement.

“That was a terrifying experience because the Kelowna RCMP were sitting right there in a very menacing way, watching me walk in and watching me walk out and knowing what I was there for. There was no confidentiality,” Kate said.

Read more: Civil claim says former Kelowna RCMP officer sexually harassed assault victim

“The Kelowna RCMP were in their breakroom, and he could have been there. I was in tears. I was calling my mom,” she said.

Another alleged victim, Michelle, has now filed a civil suit against Burkett claiming he sexually assaulted her in 2016.

She said she was too scared to report the officer at the time so was surprised to get a call from investigators, who found her through Burkett’s phone.

“I got a call out of the blue from the anti-corruption internal affairs department for the RCMP,” she said. “And they started me asking questions about officer Burkett. I almost threw up in my kitchen.”

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“I guess one of the other women had come forward, and whoever she is, I have to say the amount of strength that took: thank-you, from all of us,” Michelle said.

Click to play video: 'Alleged victims of former Kelowna RCMP officer claim his behaviour escalated' Alleged victims of former Kelowna RCMP officer claim his behaviour escalated
Alleged victims of former Kelowna RCMP officer claim his behaviour escalated – Apr 20, 2021

Two male officers showed up at Michelle’s home the next day, and she said it felt like an interrogation.

“They were definitely intimidating, quite beefy, quite large men, and they wanted me to go into quite graphic detail about the sexual experience,” Michelle said. “I cried a lot.”

Michelle said she had kept everything, including the graphic pictures of his genitalia. She said she showed the officers. Then, she said, she never heard back.

“It’s just been one violation after another through this whole thing,” Michelle said. “They realized the severity of the situation, and they just ghost me.”

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Read more: Civil lawsuits pile up against former Kelowna Mountie

“I don’t know what happened. I know that they didn’t forget about me because charges were laid.”

Michelle said she wants the officers who investigated Burkett to know that she feels they manipulated her.

“What they have done by not taking the time to get back to me over all these years, we’re not talking a couple of months here, that they have done just as much damage as officer Burkett has done to me,” she said.

Lisa, another one of Burkett’s alleged victims whose real name has been changed, said she spoke to investigators years ago about Burkett, but wasn’t even aware that she had personally been named on criminal court documents.

She knew charges had been laid against him only because of media reports, she added.

Read more: ‘I’m up for the challenge’: Kelowna RCMP’s new top cop addresses issues

Zoe said she was also questioned by officers after reporting Burkett’s alleged actions.

“I felt like I had been interrogated so the RCMP could find out what information I had against him, and as soon as I was no use to them anymore, I was no use to them anymore. That was the end of the communication,” she said.

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“I was angry for myself, for all women who come forward with these stories,” Zoe added.

Sara said Burkett also sent her sexually suggestive texts. Like Kate, she turned to the Elizabeth Fry Society for help.

She said they already knew Burkett’s name and encouraged her to step forward.

“I just wasn’t strong enough for what they wanted,” Sara said. “They wanted me to stand up and go to court or whatever process that would be for an officer doing what he’s not supposed to be doing.”

“It was just too much.”

Read more: B.C. RCMP officer charged with sexual assault, suspended with pay

But when investigators contacted Sara about a year later, she said she did give a statement.

“There’s a huge lack in trauma-informed officers when dealing with situations with victims,” Sara said. “Two men to come and investigate me, really? There wasn’t a woman?”

Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services, said best practices suggest that a female officer could be better-positioned to hear a victim’s statement.

“This is such an egregious example and performance of toxic hyper-masculinity that is a part of police culture and appears to be flourishing at Kelowna RCMP,” she said.

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Following the investigation, Burkett was charged with seven counts of breach of trust.

He was not charged in relation to Zoe’s allegations, and no charges were brought in relation to Michelle’s claim of sexual assault.

According to court documents, by the summer of 2016, he was allegedly pursuing an inappropriate sexual relationship with seven different women at the same time in connection with the duties of his office.

Click to play video: 'Women describe former Kelowna RCMP officer’s alleged abuse of authority' Women describe former Kelowna RCMP officer’s alleged abuse of authority
Women describe former Kelowna RCMP officer’s alleged abuse of authority – Apr 19, 2021

The Crown said it expects Burkett to plead guilty in June.

He did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Kate, Michelle, Zoe and Sara have now filed lawsuits against the former officer.

Burkett has not filed a defence in response to any of the civil claims.

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