Case of Fredericton sex assault victim turned away from ER 'horrific,' says Trudeau

·3 min read
The Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton is one of 12 hospitals in the province that offer the sexual assault nurse examiner program known as SANE. (Joe McDonald/CBC - image credit)
The Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton is one of 12 hospitals in the province that offer the sexual assault nurse examiner program known as SANE. (Joe McDonald/CBC - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the case of an alleged sexual assault victim who was turned away from a Fredericton emergency room last month is "horrific" and illustrates the strain on the health-care system across the country.

His heart goes out to the 26-year-old woman and those supporting her, he told reporters in St. Andrews Tuesday, pledging continued discussions with premiers to improve the system.

"This is something we take incredibly seriously."

On Monday, CBC News reported the woman went to the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital ER to get a sexual assault forensic examination performed and was told to schedule an appointment for the next day because no trained nurse was available.

The woman, whom CBC News is not naming, said she was still in shock after being told to go home overnight, not shower or change, and to use the bathroom as little as possible in order to help preserve any evidence.

"It's unacceptable that a survivor be faced with that kind of response," said Trudeau.

"We know how challenging it is in some cases to deal with institutions, whether it's hospitals or police, after that kind of violence," he said.

"As difficult as that story was to hear yesterday, we know that there are stories like it happening all across the country, of people not getting the service and the support that they so deeply need from people who would like to be giving it but are stressed and stretched too thin in our medical systems across the country."

Joe McDonald/CBC
Joe McDonald/CBC

Trudeau noted the federal government has contributed about $72 billion extra for health care during the pandemic and has committed to more investments.

"But I think everyone knows that it's not just about more money into the system, it's about getting better outcomes," he said.

"It's about getting more support for those frontline workers, nurses and doctors and folks in our hospitals who are increasingly ground down, increasingly exhausted, increasingly overworked, that we need to give them more resources and better conditions in which to work.

"That is what we are very much engaged with, working in the provinces — not because the federal government should be dictating conditions of work or allocation of resources. But because we need to be clear that Canadians deserve a system that works better than it works right now and that money will be part of the solution, but not the only solution."

Shortly after CBC's story about the woman was published, Horizon Health Network's interim CEO and president Margaret Melanson announced a review of how the sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) program is administered.

Premier Blaine Higgs also issued a statement about what he described as an "unacceptable situation and reflective of a process guided by very poor decision-making and a lack of compassion." He said he had spoken to Melanson to express his "concerns and frustration, and to stress that this situation needs to be addressed immediately.

"I was assured going forward that any victim of sexual assault will receive the services they need when they need them," he said.

"I will be following up to ensure that is indeed the case," he added.

The woman did get the sexual assault exam done that night, but only after a Fredericton Police Force officer intervened and a nurse was called in.

She decided to speak out about her experience, she said, to help make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else.

"No woman who has been raped should ever be told to come back tomorrow for help after finding the courage to reach out for help," the woman said.

On Aug. 1, West District RCMP received a report of a sexual assault that would have occurred in its jurisdiction, New Brunswick RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Hans Ouellette has said.

On Aug. 10, a 32-year-old man was arrested in relation to the sexual assault and released on conditions pending a future court date, Ouellette said.

No charges have been laid, he said. The investigation continues.