An in-depth look at allegations against a former Kelowna Mountie and how the case was handled

Click to play video: 'Five-part series on allegations against former Kelowna Mountie' Five-part series on allegations against former Kelowna Mountie
Several women have stepped forward with stories of how a former Kelowna Mountie allegedly abused his authority. Jules Knox reports on what they say happened, how their cases were handled and why women's advocates are worried the case could have a chilling effect on domestic or sexual assault survivors. – Apr 23, 2021

This story originally ran as a five-part series

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

Part 1:
‘I was afraid’: Women describe former RCMP officer’s alleged abuse of authority

A former RCMP officer is being accused of abusing his authority by pursuing inappropriate sexual relationships with vulnerable women who had turned to police for help.

Several of the women are now stepping forward with their stories.

Kate, whose name has been changed because of the sexual nature of the allegations, said she turned to RCMP in February 2016.

She said Const. Brian Burkett came to her home for a domestic violence call, taking photos — and her phone number.

He started by texting updates on her case.

“Later on that night I got a series of text messages from Burkett and at that time he started to get really personal,” Kate said.

Then, Kate said, it turned sexually explicit.

“If he got a chance with me, what he would do on his shift and wanting to come over, have a sexual encounter, would I be up for it, did I think he was handsome. He sent me a picture of his genitals,” Kate said.

“He started aggressively asking me when I was free and intermingling the fact that we had to talk and see each other because of my case,” she added.

Kate said she felt scared and overwhelmed.

“He wanted to be the sole person looking out for me,” she said.

Shape Created with Sketch.

Kate said Burkett also started harassing her at work and demanding sexual favours.

Advertisement

“I was frozen. I was afraid. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know who to ask,” she said.

Kate turned to the Elizabeth Fry Society, and she said they took her seriously.

But a few months after she reported Burkett, Kate said she was recovering from emergency surgery at home when her door got kicked in.

“I can’t even describe the feeling of your door being kicked in when you’re just a law-abiding citizen who is recovering from a surgery, and then 10 armed police officers, with no ambulance, no medical team, no reason to be there, tell you to get up and that they got an anonymous tip and that you are now going to the hospital,” she said.

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

Kate said she started to cry and asked if she was under arrest.

She said they told her she was going with them whether she liked it or not.

Kate said the officers wouldn’t allow her to have her phone, and she was taken to hospital in a police vehicle.

“After about half an hour, I realized I hadn’t been checked in, and nobody knew I was there,” Kate said. “I’d been pulled out of my home. I’d been illegally detained. I’d been taken down to the hospital and left with no way to get home. No purse, no phone.”

Kate said she called RCMP for answers but got no response.

“There was no reason as to who this anonymous person was that called in a wellness check,” Kate said.

“And the only thing that comes to mind is I testified against a police officer. And I was the person that had some pretty damning evidence against this person,” she added.

Kate said she still had her sexually explicit text messages from Burkett.

The allegations against him have not been proven in court.

Sara, whose name has also been changed, met Burkett in 2016 when she turned to RCMP for help.

“I was in crisis mode,” she said.

Shape Created with Sketch.

“It’s just a huge problem that that call was taken by a 100 per cent predator, who knew I was vulnerable, knew I was alone, knew I was scared,” she said.

Sara said Burkett then started texting her.

She said he asked for sexually explicit pictures but wanted to keep it a secret.

“As a child who is a survivor of sexual abuse, hearing ‘don’t tell anybody,’ is something that I’ve heard for a lot of years as a little girl,” Sara said.

Shape Created with Sketch.

Instead of helping her, Burkett triggered her childhood trauma, Sara said.

“It gives me a physical response. I vibrate. I have these two little girls that I’m raising that I’m to teach them that if they’re in harm, RCMP are safe people. And I don’t have that feeling with them.”

The allegations against Burkett have not been proven in court, and he did not respond to requests for an interview.

The Crown says it expects him to plead guilty on June 2.

Four women have filed civil claims against Burkett, including Sara and Kate.

He has not yet filed a statement of defence.

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

Part 2:
‘He tested the waters with me and got away with it’: Alleged victims of former RCMP officer claim his behaviour escalated

Some of a former Kelowna RCMP officer’s alleged victims believe that Const. Brian Burkett’s behaviour escalated over time, and that there might be more women who ran into problems with him.

Zoe first met Burkett in Duncan in 2012 after she had called 911 for help.

Advertisement

She said she was run off the road by an aggressive male driver, and the officer texted her to come down to the station to give a statement.

“And when I had completed that, Const. Burkett turned off his tape recorder, put away his note pad, and immediately began commenting on my appearance — saying that he liked my piercings, asked if I had any tattoos,” Zoe said.

His comments made her uncomfortable, Zoe said, so she left.

“Not one minute down the road, my cellphone started buzzing and it buzzed the entire 10-minute drive home,” Zoe said.

Zoe said Burkett had sent her at least a dozen text messages.

“All of the messages were sexually suggestive,” she said. “It was clear that he was impulsively, obsessively and aggressively attempting to pursue an intimate relationship with me.”

“I realized that I was vulnerable to this person who had access to all of my personal information, including my home address and phone number.”

Zoe said she was scared and felt violated.

“I felt like this officer who was supposed to help me to feel safe and support me as a victim of that crime actually made me feel more unsafe than that aggressive driver had,” she said.

The officer’s actions prompted her to engage in avoidant behaviours, like never driving by the RCMP detachment and parking her vehicle in a way that it’s not sticking out, she said.

Zoe said she didn’t respond to Burkett’s messages, and he didn’t text her again. But she didn’t report him at the time.

“He tested the waters with me and he got away with it,” she said.

Shape Created with Sketch.

“And I have to live with it every day, that I didn’t come forward then,” she said.

Burkett’s behaviour had allegedly escalated by the time he met Michelle four years later in Kelowna.

Michelle’s name has been changed because of the sexual nature of her allegations against Burkett.

She said she was driving her boss’s vehicle on a suspended licence when he pulled her over.

Burkett gave Michelle a ticket, and then he called her a couple of days later, she said.

“And he said you know, if we meet up, then you know maybe we can work something out,” Michelle said.

She said she was surprised when he showed up in his own car and not in uniform.

“He’s like, ‘Oh, let’s go for a drive’,” she said. “And I’m like, ‘I can’t go far, I’ve got to get back.’ I don’t really know what’s going on here.”

But she got into the car, and Burkett took her to a remote area, Michelle said.

“He kept going and going. And I was like, ‘I can’t go this far’,” she said. “I’ve got to get back, I don’t have much time. And I was starting to get really scared.”

“My heart was starting to race.”

Shape Created with Sketch.

Michelle said that when Burkett finally pulled over, he asked for a sexual favour.

She said that he told her if she “serviced him,” he would do what he could to get her ticket to go away.

“It was all wrong, the whole thing was just wrong. I didn’t know if he had his weapon on him, at that point I didn’t even really know where I was,” she said.

Michelle said she was scared and felt powerless.

“And then he started to get kind of a bit forceful, and he was like, ‘This isn’t working,’” she said. “He’s like, ‘Take off your pants’.”

Michelle said she tried not to cry as he pinned her down.

“I knew what I was doing, I knew that I didn’t want to be doing this, and I knew that at this point, what was I going to do? Like I was in the car,” she said.

Michelle said, when it was over, Burkett dumped her at a convenience store on the edge of town.

“He was like, ‘You’re in a hurry, so get out’,” Michelle said.

“He wanted to degrade me and to embarrass me and to show his power,” she said.

Shape Created with Sketch.
Advertisement

“And when dropped me off, he was like, ‘I don’t think I’m going to be able to do something about that ticket’,” she said.

Michelle had to cab back home.

“And I was like, I just got played. I got violated. I was scared that I could have gotten hurt,” she said.

Michelle said Burkett continued to sext her and threatened her with jail time as an officer still involved in her case.

“I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who to call. I was humiliated and embarrassed with myself and with what happened, so I made the choice to leave Kelowna,” Michelle said.

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

The allegations against Burkett have not been proven in court, and he did not respond to requests for an interview.

He’s no longer a police officer, and he’s facing seven breach of trust charges.

The Crown expects him to plead guilty on June 2.

Burkett was not charged with sexual assault.

Although charges were never laid in Zoe’s case, she and Michelle have both filed lawsuits against the former officer.

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

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

Part 3:
‘That was a terrifying experience’: Women describe reporting Kelowna RCMP officer for alleged abuse of power

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.

“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.”

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.

“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.

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

Advertisement

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.”

“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.

Shape Created with Sketch.

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.”

Shape Created with Sketch.

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.”

Shape Created with Sketch.

“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.

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.

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

Shape Created with Sketch.

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.”

Shape Created with Sketch.

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.

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.

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.

Advertisement

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

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
Women describe reporting a Kelowna RCMP officer for alleged abuse of power – Apr 21, 2021

Part 4:
‘It was more than breach of trust’: Alleged victims outraged at ex-Mountie’s charges

The charges a former RCMP officer is now facing aren’t enough for the crimes he’s accused of, according to some of his alleged victims.

In 2012, after Zoe called 911 because she was frightened during a road rage incident, Const. Brian Burkett allegedly took her personal phone number and sent her a dozen sexually suggestive text messages.

But she said she was too scared to do anything about it at the time.

“As years went on, in 2016 when the MeToo movement really began to take shape, I was older. I was more confident. I had spent many years reflecting on the impacts of that situation, and I decided to find Burkett and tell him how he had impacted me,” Zoe said.

“Burkett responded with what I now realize is a completely hollow apology,” she said.

According to Facebook messages, the officer replied that he didn’t recall what he said specifically but apologized for his behaviour and admitted it was unprofessional.

When allegations from other women against Burkett were publicized years later, Zoe said she felt sick to her stomach.

Police later investigated her allegations but charges were never laid in Zoe’s case.

“The message that Crown counsel is sending by not approving that (charge), is that this case, where an RCMP officer used the personal and private information of a victim of crime to pursue a sexual relationship with her in an impulsive and obsessive and aggressive manner, does not even constitute a breach of trust,” Zoe said.

The Crown would not comment, saying the matter is still before the courts.

But Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services, believes Burkett should be charged in Zoe’s case.

“She as well as countless other women have bumped up against this blue wall of silence and of minimizing and denying and outright dismissing,” she said.

Shape Created with Sketch.

Court documents suggest that in May 2016, as Burkett was apologizing to Zoe for his behaviour, he was allegedly simultaneously pursuing inappropriate sexual relationships with six other women, many of them victims of crime who had turned to RCMP for help.

He met both Kate and Michelle, whose names have been changed, on the exact same day but during separate police incidents, according to court documents.

Burkett would allegedly go on to send both women a series of sexually explicit messages.

Those allegations have not been proven in court, but Burkett was later charged with seven counts of breach of trust.

“I am completely enraged that what he’s charged with is a breach of trust,” Kate said.

Shape Created with Sketch.

“To me when I think about that wording, it feels like he took my mail and read it.”

“What he did was stalking. What he did was systematic. It was hidden and it was purposeful.”

Michelle’s lawsuit against the former cop claims that he forced her to have sex with him.

Burkett was not charged with sexual assault.

Michelle doesn’t believe the breach of trust charge is enough.

“It’s pathetic, absolutely disgusting. This is nothing. That’s a slap on the wrist,” Michelle said.

MacDougall said the power imbalance between Burkett and his alleged victims is extraordinary. She agreed he should be facing more than breach of trust charges given the officer’s position of power.

“Here we have a member of law enforcement who then abuses his trust in order to achieve his own sexual gratification, through sexting someone who is a victim of domestic violence,” she said.

“What we’ve seen here is that the criminal system has decided to underscore the incredible violation that this member of law enforcement has done by deciding to go with charges that do not reflect the offence.”

Advertisement

“We need Crown counsel to use the Criminal Code to its full extent, to call a spade a spade,” MacDougall added.

MacDougall said sexual offenders usually follow a grooming process, where they start by testing victims to see how far they can go.

She emphasized that blame shouldn’t fall to the victims.

“If I’m speaking to any victim of sexualized violence, any woman that’s been a victim of misuse of power by a member of law enforcement, I say, it’s not your fault.”

“He has professional standards that he’s accountable to, he has the trust of the community that he’s accountable to, and when somebody misuses their power, it’s 100 per cent their responsibility,” MacDougall added.

Zoe believes that Burkett’s behaviour escalated over time.

“You don’t jump from sending harassing text messages to literally coercing and manipulating victims of crime into being sexually assaulted and then dumping them on the side of the road.”

Zoe is referring to allegations in Michelle’s civil claim which have not been proven, and Burkett has not been charged with sexual assault.

Over his nearly 10-year career, Burkett was posted to six different places, including North Cowichan, Ahousaht, Bella Bella, Lake Country, Duncan and Kelowna.

Read more: Civil lawsuits pile up against former Kelowna Mountie

Lawyer Michael Patterson represents four of the women in civil suits.

“RCMP appear to show a pattern of moving officers with bad behaviour around to different detachments, maybe to give that officer a fresh start, but creating fresh victims in the process,” he said.

Patterson believes Burkett has more victims out there.

Zoe noted that if she hadn’t come forward with her civil case, none of her story would be public.

“And it really causes me to question how many other women have come forward with allegations against Burkett…and then be silenced,” she added.

“I want to see transparency from RCMP. If they did not know that this pattern of behaviour was happening over these years, let’s see his transfer records. Let’s see his disciplinary records,” Zoe added.

She feels let down by the criminal justice system.

“How can I expect a system to protect me when it wasn’t designed to protect women?” she asked.

“The whole process of being involved in a criminal investigation is deeply exhausting and disheartening. I am a well-educated and well-resourced person who doesn’t give up easily, and I was exhausted,” Zoe added.

Zoe wants Burkett to be held criminally responsible for his alleged actions.

“I also believe that RCMP need to be held responsible because they are responsible for the behaviour of their officers,” she said.

The allegations against Burkett have not been proven, and he did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

He’s no longer a police officer.

The Crown says it expects Burkett to plead guilty on June 2.

He has not filed a defence to any of the civil claims.

Click to play video: 'Alleged victims outraged at ex-Mountie’s charges' Alleged victims outraged at ex-Mountie’s charges
Alleged victims outraged at ex-Mountie’s charges – Apr 22, 2021

Part 5:
‘This could have a chilling effect’: The impact of a Kelowna Mountie’s alleged actions

Lisa said she first met Const. Brian Burkett when he responded after she was domestically assaulted.

She said he found her on Facebook a few days later.

“He could have called me from the detachment or done something more professional,” she said.

Lisa said she was in a vulnerable spot at that time in her life.

“I was trying to confide in him to get some justice for what happened that night,” Lisa said. “Because I know when we were talking, I did send him pictures of my bruises.”

Advertisement

She said they kept messaging.

“And then he sent me a completely nude picture and was just being super inappropriate,” she said.

“It’s not okay, he is to serve and protect,” Lisa said.

Shape Created with Sketch.

“I was scared because of the badge and the title of being a policeman. Maybe I was scared of what he was capable of doing,” she added.

That was in the summer of 2016.

According to court documents, Lisa was the last of Burkett’s seven alleged victims.

RCMP started investigating the officer around that time, but breach of trust charges wouldn’t be laid for three years.

Read more: Seven charges of breach of trust laid against former B.C. Mountie

“This is so much bigger than just him,” Michelle said.

Shape Created with Sketch.

“I don’t know what the solution is, but I can tell you what’s happening now is not working,” she added.

Burkett’s alleged victims are calling for swifter action and question how RCMP weren’t aware sooner that the officer’s actions might have been inappropriate.

“While my story is important, my story is a fragment of a system that is broken,” Kate said. “I was somebody who needed the police for just a short period of time, and have now been victimized by the system.”

“When you think about how many times you actually need the police, they aren’t your greatest moments. They are moments when you will be vulnerable,” she said.

“And these are not times for a sexual predator to show up and to take your personal information and to decide to stalk, harass and abuse you.”

“We have a broken system. We do have a legal system. We do not have a justice system,” Kate said.

Shape Created with Sketch.

“I say that as somebody who for five years has been treated like the criminal in a case where I’m the victim.”

Michael Patterson is a lawyer representing four of the women in civil suits against Burkett.

“Too many victims suffer in silence because they don’t have the resources to take on the RCMP and the attorney general of Canada,” he said.

“That allows people like Burkett to allegedly continue to perpetuate and abuse their power on members of the public,” he added.

Angela Marie MacDougall is the executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services.

“He’s a man with a gun who has the power, the weight of the entire nation behind him,” MacDougall said.

“The power imbalance is off the charts.”

Shape Created with Sketch.

She’s worried Burkett’s alleged actions could deter other domestic or sexual assault victims from stepping forward.

“This could have a chilling effect for so many women about whether the police can be an actual resource for them, and particularly in Kelowna,” she said.

Burkett’s accusers said it wasn’t easy to share their stories, but they’re trying to help shape a better future.

“I’m a mom of young girls. I’m a voice for women who can’t be — who I couldn’t be five years ago,” said Sara, another of Burkett’s alleged victims.

“The thing is, I realize that this is just so big in my world, but in our whole world, it’s such a small step to such a big problem,” Sara said.

“And I just hope it can be a little bit of change at least so in my girls are grown women that they can feel safe.”

Zoe said she was motivated to step forward to put a face to one of Burkett’s alleged victims.

“So you can see who I am. So you can see how this impacted me,” she said.

She wants to inspire anybody who believes they have been victimized by Burkett to come forward to add to the story.

“To fill in those gaps, because the RCMP won’t do it,” Zoe said.

Shape Created with Sketch.

“But only if it feels right to them. I would never want to coerce or pressure anybody to relive a trauma like myself and all of these other women have had to.”

Zoe believes there is deep toxicity within the RCMP.

Advertisement

“What do I want to change? I want the narrative to stop being that women are liars, that we have anything to gain from going through these experiences and becoming public with these experiences,” Zoe said.

“I just want women to know that there is a growing chorus of us standing up with experiences all across the spectrum. And we won’t be silenced,” she added.

The allegations against Burkett have not been proven, and he did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

He resigned from the police force in 2017.

The Crown says it expects him to plead guilty to seven counts of breach of trust at his next court appearance in June.

He has not filed a statement of defence to any of the lawsuits brought against him.

Click to play video: 'The potential impact of a Kelowna Mountie’s alleged actions' The potential impact of a Kelowna Mountie’s alleged actions
The potential impact of a Kelowna Mountie’s alleged actions – Apr 23, 2021