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Woman who made complaint about Kelowna RCMP wants ‘accountability for people who cause more trauma’

Click to play video: 'Okanagan woman pushes for change after RCMP apologize for mishandling sexual assault report' Okanagan woman pushes for change after RCMP apologize for mishandling sexual assault report
Okanagan woman pushes for change after RCMP apologize for mishandling sexual assault report – Nov 26, 2021

A woman whose 2020 sexual assault report was found to be inadequately investigated by Kelowna RCMP would like to see further accountability for officers not just blanket apologies and promises to do better.

“(Kelowna RCMP) has consistently put out well-written statements, and talks about education, etcetera, but we don’t see accountability for people who cause more trauma and ignore reports for sexual assault,” the 22-year old who made the complaint against RCMP said Thursday. Her name is being withheld.

“I feel that it is important and would show integrity, to say, ’these are our rules, and if you don’t live up to the standard there will be consequences.’”

Supt. Kara Triance apologized to the woman on behalf of the detachment, both in a privately released RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission report that found that another officer failed to properly follow through with the woman’s sexual assault complaint, and later in a press release after the report went public.

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Read more: Kelowna Mounties vow to do better when dealing with victims of sexual violence

In the latter statement, Triance also listed ways in which the detachment is changing the way it deals with sex assault complaints.

What that statement didn’t say much about was the officer at the centre of the complaint and the consequences she faced. Kelowna RCMP just offered that she had retired.

A follow up from the RCMP indicated the officer had become a reserve constable and is employed “as and when necessary.”

It’s something that doesn’t sit well with the complainant.

“They have yet to hold the officer accountable for her actions. They let her leave and get off with it, which makes me think they’re not as quite as sorry as they say,” she said.

The woman made the rape complaint in May 2020 about an attack made the previous November.

According to the commission, she was told by the officer that her story was confusing and it wouldn’t hold up in court. She was also told because she and the man dated after the incident, the assault didn’t count and because she didn’t scream “no” or call the police, it wasn’t an assault.

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Despite the woman’s insistence that she wanted to press charges, the commission found that the officer in charge of the case wrote on the file that she did not.

Ultimately, the victim’s allegations that the officer neglected duty and had an improper attitude were supported by the commission.

“I don’t have faith in the system … I thought it was broken before and now I see more ways it’s not working,” the woman said.

Click to play video: 'Reaction pours in following RCMP report into Central Okanagan sexual assault investigations' Reaction pours in following RCMP report into Central Okanagan sexual assault investigations
Reaction pours in following RCMP report into Central Okanagan sexual assault investigations – Mar 3, 2020

Her perseverance ultimately ensured her original sex assault complaint now been assigned a sex crimes investigator and a charge of sexual assault was recommended to the B.C. Prosecution Service.

They’ve yet to go forward with filing charges but even if that never happens some good has come from the ordeal.

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“I’m glad I did it,” she said, adding that sometimes she gets annoyed with herself and asks what was the point, given that nothing has yet come of it. She hopes that the public scrutiny will only add to making policing more transparent when it comes to sexual assault cases.

READ MORE: MPs slam RCMP for asking Indigenous teen reporting sex assault if she was ‘turned on by this at all’

“If I could go back, I would say contact one of these organizations (Elizabeth Fry or Vancouver Rape Relief) and contact them first. They are amazing advocates and they will walk you through.”

Sophia Hladik, a front-line worker at Vancouver Rape Relief, said cases such as these are not one offs and it’s not only Kelowna RCMP issue that has issues come up.

“There is not a consistent police response,” Hladik said. “That’s not to say there aren’t great RCMP officers doing great response work being very receptive, but we found it varies and depending on the officer (a complainant) gets. There is a lack of consistency, and that means there are situations like (this one) that are terrible and that does happen across B.C.“

Hladik said that consistent public pressure will force a transformative change in the criminal justice system and its response to violent crimes against women.

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“What needs to happen is quite simple. Statements need to be taken in full, files need to be investigated, there needs to be accountability and transparency,” Hladik said.

She also said victims making a statement should also have an advocate in the room and there should be two police investigating.

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

In time, she said, it could go some distance to restoring faith in the system.

“In our experience, most women report to police in spite of the fact it won’t be taken seriously because they feel a responsibility to other women, not just to themselves,” she said.

“So in spite of that, most women feel they should do this, it’s the right thing to do, it’s what supposed to do … but what I see in my work and our organization as a whole, based on a lot of investigations … women’s faith in the criminal justice (system) is quite low.“

Shortcomings when it comes to investigating sexual assaults has been an issue Kelowna’s RCMP detachment has long struggled with.

In November of 2019, the country focused on Kelowna following news that the city had a very high unfounded rate.

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According to Statistics Canada data, 35 (nearly 40 per cent) of the sexual assault cases that were reported to Kelowna RCMP in the previous year were dismissed as unfounded.

Vernon officers dismissed eight cases, nearly a quarter of all reported, while Penticton RCMP said 11 incidents were unfounded, which is about 38 per cent.

Those numbers were far higher than the provincial average of less than 15 per cent.

By February 2020, a report looking into the high number of unfounded sexual assault files was investigated by Kelowna RCMP.

The report, released by the RCMP’s national headquarters sexual assault review team (SART), found that 29 files were incorrectly scored by investigators who used the uniform crime reporting (UCR) survey to determine whether the reported crime is founded or unfounded.

That report prompted the police to reopen 12 cases and review 29 others that were dismissed in 2018 and 2019.

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