As 8 women prepare to sue over alleged RNC sex assaults, hurdles may be emerging

·4 min read
Lawyer Lynn Moore is representing eight women who claim on-duty police officers scooped them off downtown St. John's streets and sexually assaulted them. (Curtis Hicks/CBC - image credit)
Lawyer Lynn Moore is representing eight women who claim on-duty police officers scooped them off downtown St. John's streets and sexually assaulted them. (Curtis Hicks/CBC - image credit)
Curtis Hicks/CBC
Curtis Hicks/CBC

A St. John's lawyer says eight women are prepared to sue the Newfoundland and Labrador government over allegations that they were sexually assaulted by on-duty police officers.

Litigator Lynn Moore broke the news in July that several women had emerged to point fingers at the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, accusing multiple police officers of sex crimes.

Moore says eight of the 11 women that contacted her last summer have now chosen to move forward with a civil suit.

That initial flood of accusations followed the third trial of RNC officer Doug Snelgrove, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a young woman in 2014 while he was on duty.

Moore said the allegations that came pouring in after Snelgroves conviction closely resemble what happened to the complainant in the case, known as Jane Doe.

Her clients in this lawsuit "generally tend to be professional women who were enjoying a night downtown, leaving while under the influence of alcohol, and offered a ride home by a police officer, who then sexually assaulted them," she said Thursday.

"These women did not consent. The vast majority of them were raped and the effects on them have been devastating and long-lasting."

Sources with connections to the force have previously described a culture of sexual misconduct within the force, telling CBC News how officers would habitually prowl the downtown core, targeting women under the influence of alcohol.

Moore said her clients so far have been able to identify three of the accused officers. It's not clear how many other officers are involved, as some could have assaulted more than one woman, and some of her clients aren't able to identify their alleged attackers.

They have nightmares before they talk about it. They have nightmares after they talk about it." - Lynn Moore

She says at least one of the identified officers retired shortly after the allegations came to light.

"These women were treated like objects, not worthy of any human dignity or respect," she said.

The Department of Justice, in an emailed statement to CBC, declined to comment in detail on the lawsuit.

"The government of Newfoundland and Labrador can confirm it has been served with a statement of claim by one person alleging they were assaulted by an RNC officer," the department wrote.

"As this matter is before the court, the province will not be making comment."

CBC News has also requested comment from the RNC.

'I watched them weep'

The upcoming lawsuit already has its hurdles.

Moore described in an interview Thursday how her clients are being forced to undergo an assessment by a sexual abuse expert before she proceeds with a statement of claim.

That assessment is supposed to determine whether having their identities disclosed in court would cause them psychological harm. It forces plaintiffs to recount details of the alleged assaults, Moore said — an experience that sometimes leaves them shaken.

Curtis Hicks/CBC
Curtis Hicks/CBC

"I watched those women tell me their story," Moore said.

"I watched their colour rise. I watched them weep. They have nightmares before they talk about it. They have nightmares after they talk about it."

The requirement for an assessment — or a Jane Doe order, as Moore puts it — is par for the course in sex assault lawsuits. With criminal charges, though, a publication ban on the identities of complainants is automatic due to federal legislation.

Moore says the province could pass legislation to scrap the assessment for civil cases, similar to what it already did in the Intimate Images Protection Act.

Paul Daly/CBC
Paul Daly/CBC

Doing so for sex assault cases too, she said, would prevent survivors from having to prove they had be harmed if their names and faces were revealed.

But she says in this case, the government has refused to help.

"I wrote to their counsel and I said, come to court with me [and agree] that you think it's harmful for women who've been sexually assaulted to have their names made public," she said.

"They came back to me, no. That's the answer. 'No, we're not doing it.'"

'Little value' in revealing IDs

Moore says she's asked government officials repeatedly over the years to address the requirement, but nothing has been done.

"The court is very concerned about the open court principle. We don't have trials in secret," she said.

"Every time there's a Jane Doe or a John Doe application, they're tweeted out so that the media can show up and object if they want to. But the Supreme Court of Canada has said that there's very little public value in knowing the name of the survivor of sexual assault."

Moore said some of her clients have already completed the assessment, and others are prepared to take it if it means anonymity.

"They have decided that they're mad enough and they're angry enough that they're going to put up with that extra trauma just so that there can be reparations made," she said.

Moore wonders, however, how many others may have been targeted — and how many might remain silent because of rules like this one.

"They're hoping that by taking this step, other women can be protected," she said.

"We don't know if this is still happening. We don't know if there are still police officers doing this."

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