Two Vancouver-area police officers who have been held in Cuba for nearly six months over an alleged sexual assault will face an investigation when they return to Canada — even if they're cleared by Cuban investigators.
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner of British Columbia (OPCC) will oversee the review, CBC News has confirmed.
Vancouver Const. Mark Simms, 29, and Port Moody Const. Jordan Long, 31, have been barred from leaving Cuba since mid-March, when they were arrested while on vacation in Varadero.
The arrests came after a fellow tourist, a 17-year-old from Ontario, reported she had been sexually assaulted. Few details of the case have been released, but in April, Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay said Simms was accused of the sexual assault while Long was being held as a material witness.
Both men maintain their innocence, according to their families. And it's unclear whether they've been formally charged with any crime.
The Cuban government has released no information about the case. The 17-year-old, who can't be identified under laws protecting underage individuals, returned to Canada shortly after the alleged incident.
The CBC has been unable to verify further details.
Simms and Long have since been released and are living in rental accommodations in the Varadero area as the case winds its way through the Cuban judicial system.
According to the OPCC, the case will be reviewed here because the province's police officers must adhere to professional standards even when on vacation.
"There will be an investigation into their conduct at some point — whenever there's some outcome from whatever is happening in Cuba, or [when] the officers return to Canada," said deputy police complaint commissioner Rollie Woods.
"Because the complainant in this case is a Canadian citizen, certainly, we would be able to interview that person."
Officers want to tell 'their side of the story'
The families of the two men spoke exclusively to CBC News, and say they're confident a Canadian investigation would help clear the men.
"The guys are desperate for this to happen," said Rebecca Simms, who is serving as the families' spokesperson. "They want to lay out every detail and tell their side of the story."
Simms said she has been in daily contact with her brother via text message, along with the odd phone call.
The government of Canada's travel advisory page for Cuba says that the criminal justice system in the country "differs significantly" from that of Canada.
"Charges are not laid until the investigations are complete, and the accused may be jailed during the entire period of the investigation," it reads. "Canadians who have been arrested, even for a minor incident, should expect long delays to resolve their cases and may not be allowed to leave the country."
When asked about the men's case, Global Affairs Canada said Canadian consular officials in Cuba remain in contact with local authorities but declined to comment further in order to protect the men's privacy.
Simms says she's been told the case is a "high priority." But after six months of waiting, she says "time speaks for itself."
"I would ask those in power in Ottawa, would the response or actions … be good enough if this was their loved one? Their son? Their brother?"
'A complete nightmare'
According to Simms, the prolonged detention in Cuba has taken its toll on the men.
"We're very concerned about the guys and their mental [state] — their physical, emotional, financial state," she said. "What was meant to be a one-week, much-needed vacation from a very challenging job has turned into a complete nightmare."
Six months of accommodation costs, legal fees and other expenses have cost the men's families between $150,000 and $200,000, she said.
Last month, the Vancouver-based Wilson Heights United Church, attended by the Simms family, set up a GoFundMe page entitled "Support for Mark and Jordan." It raised $10,000 of its $150,000 goal in four days before the page was pulled down by the crowdfunding site, and contributors were issued refunds.
Those who complained to GoFundMe about the removal of the page were told the campaign violated its terms and conditions, which prohibit "support of legal defence of alleged crimes."
Wilson Heights United then started its own fundraising drive on the church website and says it has raised thousands of dollars to date.
Reverend travelled to Cuba
The minister of the church, Rev. Blake Field, who is fluent in Spanish, has also flown to Cuba twice to visit the men.
On his most recent visit, Field stayed for almost four weeks to translate files related to the case for the two English-speaking officers. He says he also helped prepare their defence, translating their statements into Spanish for their state-appointed lawyers.
Field, who has no legal training, said that evidence convinced him the men are innocent.
"I am convinced, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Const. Mark Simms and Const. Jordan Long have been accused of a crime that they did not commit," he said.
As for Simms, she says the families just want an end to the uncertainty.
"It's a Twilight Zone," she says. "The excruciating waiting, waiting, waiting. … We don't know how long this will go on for. We don't know how this will be resolved."
The Vancouver Police Department and the Port Moody Police Department both say they continue to monitor the situation as the case makes its way through the Cuban legal system but have not received any updates from local authorities.
Cuban authorities did not respond to interview requests.
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