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‘I buried it’: Alleged victims of Kelowna RCMP officer voice struggles in walking away

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Alleged victims of Kelowna RCMP officer voice struggles in walking away – Jun 30, 2021

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

Const. Chad Vance is facing a code of conduct hearing – the type of hearing RCMP initiate when they want to dismiss a member from the force.

Two of his alleged victims are sharing their side of the story with Global News, the struggles they say they faced in walking away from an alleged abuser and the problems with the system.

Vance is accused of seven counts of discreditable conduct.

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

One of the women planning to testify against Vance is Christie, whose name has been changed for this story because of a publication ban.

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“I guess the big red flag was the first time he choked me,” Christie said.

She was new to the world of online dating when she met the constable. They started messaging.

“He told me he was a policeman, and so I felt quite reassured and safe. You know, this was all new to me,” Christie said.

And then, about three months into their relationship, she said Vance started teaching her how to two-step in his dining room.

“And he kicked my legs out from behind me. And I fell back onto my back onto the hardwood floor. And then he landed on me, half on me and began to choke me,” she said.

Read more: Trial date set for Kelowna Mountie charged with sexual assault

“And he said, ‘The more you resist, the worse it gets,’” she said.

Through his lawyer, Vance declined an interview for this story.

The choking allegation has not been proven in court.

Vance was charged with assault, and then the charge was stayed in November 2019 before the case went to trial.

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“It’s devastating. You feel like you’ve done all of this for nothing,” Christie said.

With the upcoming RCMP conduct hearing, Vance could lose his job. Several witnesses are expected to testify against him, including Christie.

She alleges the abuse happened more than once, and the bruises on her arms were an everyday reminder.

She said one time Vance pinned her down and started squeezing her head between his arms.

“I thought my neck was going to snap,” she said. “I was waiting for something to happen. And I asked him, ‘Please stop, stop, stop.’ He didn’t talk to me. He didn’t say anything.”

Christie believes she formed a trauma bond with Vance.

“Anyone that’s inflicting emotional, physical, sexual pain on someone, they’re the only ones that have the ability to stop this.

“You wait for that cycle to break, to end, so that things go back to what you think is normal,” Christie said. “And I was always waiting for things to get better. Always.”

Read more: Alleged victims of former RCMP officer claim his behaviour escalated

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Christie said she reported Vance after she told her daughter her story about what had happened.

“And my daughter said to me, ‘You know, Mom, if somebody had done this to me, you would want me to go to the police and do the right thing.’”

She said the conversation she had with officers was harrowing.

“You’re not prepared for an interview,” she said. “No one prepares you that you’re going to be videotaped, recorded.

“We just want to share this horrifying experience that we’ve encountered, so you don’t always have your facts right, dates right.

“I remembered what I was wearing. I couldn’t remember the date – I had to look through my pay stubs.”

Registered clinical counsellor Roxie Van Aller said there’s an extra layer of challenges for those stepping forward with allegations against an RCMP officer.

“Think of the power an RCMP officer has,” she said.

Read more: ‘I feel broken’ — Victim reacts to former Kelowna Mountie’s plea deal

“Some of the most challenging cases involve women who had partners who were in the RCMP because they have access to information that the regular person wouldn’t have access to.

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“And they have this whole big force standing behind them, whether or not that would be true or not, in the woman’s eye, that’s what she’s fighting against.”

Around the time the Crown stayed the assault charge against Vance, Christie said he started following her on social media.

“I felt like prey. I felt hunted,” she said.

Christie said she privatized her Instagram account after she realized he was watching her stories. She said it had an impact on her business.

“It was intimidating for me,” she said. “I felt violated. Like, I’m watching you, I’m here, I can see what you’re doing.

“I was afraid.”

Van Aller said it’s a problem that the burden usually falls to the alleged victim to delete or privatize their accounts.

“I don’t think our laws have caught up to technology at all,” she said.

“It’s almost like the victim becomes re-victimized all over again because they’re the ones that are having to make the change.”

Melissa, whose name has been changed because of a publication ban, dated Vance back in 2015.

She alleges that he tried to rape her.

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“I was telling him to get the eff off me. Stop it, get the eff off me. Stop it, over and over,” she said. “And he said not one word. Nothing.”

Melissa said she was in shock afterwards.

“It was pretty dark inside. There’s a feeling of, did that just really happen?” she said. “What did I do wrong?”

“I just kind of went into a dark place,” Melissa said. “I tried to bury it over the years.”

Melissa testified against Vance at his sexual assault trial last winter.

“I haven’t even shared it with some of my extremely close friends because of the trauma that came from it. I’m still not healed,” she said, adding that it was embarrassing to talk about such intimate details in the courtroom.

Read more: ‘I sobbed all the way home’ — Alleged victim takes stand in Kelowna Mountie’s sexual assault trial

“To share that with complete strangers who are actually judging you on that, it made me nauseated in my stomach and shaking. My palms were sweating.”

“I was looking around the room, and I mean, even the bailiff is male.

“There’s complete strangers listening to something so personal that happened in my life that hardly anybody knows.”

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Melissa also questions why other witnesses weren’t brought forward, including a family member who she believes has testimony relevant to the case.

Vance denied Melissa’s allegations on the stand, disputing her timeline largely through credit card receipts.

Read more: Kelowna Mountie denies rape allegation

The next day, Crown prosecutor Tim McKelvey asked the judge to find the constable not guilty.

The judge acquitted Vance, saying that while he didn’t agree with all of the defence’s submissions, he didn’t believe the Crown had proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Read more: Kelowna Mountie found not guilty of sexual assault

The judge said there’s some support for Vance’s evidence that the woman, who lived out of town, was not in Kelowna at the time the offence was alleged to have occurred.

As the alleged victim, Melissa believes the prosecutor should have at least warned her that he had suddenly changed his mind and planned to ask for an acquittal.

Read more: ‘I’m outraged’ — Women react to former Mountie’s plea deal, handling of victim statements

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“Absolute shock. A little bit of anger,” she said. “Why wasn’t I told? This is my case too. This is my case. This is my life.”

Melissa said she only learned of the sudden turn in events when she contacted the Crown for an afternoon update. She said she had been told to stay in town because she could be recalled as a witness.

“And, quote, unquote, ‘I’m sure you’ve already read about it: that he was acquitted,’” she said. “And I’m like, ‘Pardon? Read about it?’ I had no idea.”

In a statement, the BC Prosecution Service said Crown counsel took the position he did after concluding that there was no prospect of a conviction.

“This decision was made with full knowledge of the available, admissible evidence and the defence which was presented,” spokesperson Dan McLaughlin said.

“This decision was communicated to the complainant at the appropriate time and in an appropriate manner.”

Clinical counsellor Roxie Van Aller said alleged victims are left in the dark far too often.

“There’s a re-victimization that happens,” she said. “And the problem with this is there are other women who watch this very closely. And when they see this happening to women who come forward, it makes it less likely that they’re going to come forward.

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“It’s a scary system to begin with, and people need to be informed and respected every step of the way.”

Van Aller said victims often struggle to cut their cord with their abuser.

“I think part of it stems from wanting to check it out. Like, was this person as bad as I thought?” she said.

Melissa said she did meet up with Vance sometime after the alleged attempted rape.

“That’s part of the mindset of trauma,” she said. “You blame yourself.”

“Unless you’re in that victim brain, because there’s study after study about how trauma affects people differently. They forget details. Their pathways are charged differently.

“And that’s probably why I sought after him, and the last time I met with him was enough. And I asked myself: ‘What the hell are you doing?’ And that was it.”

But during trial, no experts in abuse were called, and Melissa didn’t feel that the impact of trauma and the ties victims can feel to their abuser were fully understood by the court.

“And they should have understood it. That’s their job,” Melissa said. “It’s not their first go-around on rape charges, on how the victim feels, what happens in the brain.”

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Christie said it’s “unfortunate that the courts don’t know how to deal with it because anybody that’s experienced intimate partner violence will understand unequivocally how hard it is to leave.”

Van Aller said she’s worked with many women who have left an abusive relationship but later saw their former partner again.

“Going back again actually helped put some closure on it for them because they were like, ‘Oh yeah, this was as bad as I thought,’ or, ‘No, this person doesn’t have the same kind of power over me.’”

Vance was found not guilty of sexual assault in Melissa’s case.

But while the criminal cases needed to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the upcoming RCMP code of conduct hearing scheduled for July is ruled on a balance of probabilities, which is a much lower burden of proof.

RCMP declined an interview for the story.

Read more: ‘A terrifying experience’ — Women describe reporting Kelowna RCMP officer for alleged abuse of power

If a victim is thinking of reporting a sexual assault, Van Aller recommends being aware that it’s a formal process.

“Spend some time actually documenting and writing down the details of what you can remember, when they happened, how things unfolded becomes important, because that makes up your statement and that becomes the foundation of which the charges go forward.”

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Van Aller said that because of the way trauma impacts the nervous system, a victim’s memories can be chronologically distorted.

“Because of the way things get laid down in the hippocampus, we don’t have an accurate memory of the way things happen. Things are fragmented, and there are bits and pieces and we remember things out of order, or we have a sense of something happening, but we can’t really put it into context,” she said.

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

“Unfortunately, that’s seen as making something up or not knowing the whole truth. But that is actually what happens to us when we experience trauma.

“When we experience trauma, different parts of our brain are no longer available to us.”

Van Aller suggests that a victim consider consulting with an organization like the Elizabeth Fry Society or Connect Counselling prior to reporting an incident at the police station.

“Get some strategies around remaining grounded, understand a little bit how trauma has impacted you.”

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

“There are things that you can do, like sensory anchors,” she said. “Things that help ground you in the moment that allow that thinking part of the brain to be online.

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“Know that by going and telling your story, there’s a lot of therapy in that.”

However, Van Aller said it’s important for victims to know that they might not always be believed.

“You might not always have the outcome you want. But to me, it’s so important about doing what feels right for you. And if speaking out feels right for you, then it’s great to go and do it. But don’t do it alone. Get support.”

She said it can be scary for victims to step forward.

“What you have to go through, in order to have your day in court and be heard, takes a tremendous amount of energy and courage. And there is a chance of feeling really victimized at the end.”

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