Civilian complaints watchdog probes N.S. RCMP conduct ahead of woman's 2017 murder

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The civilian review board of the RCMP said Tuesday it will investigate the Nova Scotia RCMP's handling of the case of Susan Butlin, who was murdered by her neighbour four weeks after she told police he sexually assaulted her.

Butlin, of Bayhead, N.S., was murdered by Ernie Ross (Junior) Duggan on Sept. 17, 2017. Duggan pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life without parole for 20 years in 2019.

In the overview of the case outlining the scope of its investigation, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP said the case also gives rise to "broader concerns about the adequacy of supervision, policies, procedures, and training pertaining to sexual assault investigations."

Weeks before her murder, Butlin contacted the RCMP to report that Duggan had sexually assaulted her, the independent agency said, adding that police determined there were no grounds to lay criminal charges and told Butlin to apply for a peace bond.

Duggan's wife, meanwhile, called 911 before the bond hearing to warn about her husband's deteriorating behaviour and the risks to Butlin's safety.

"Ms. Butlin subsequently contacted the RCMP on more than one occasion to report that Mr. Duggan was harassing and intimidating her and that she was concerned for her safety," the agency said.

Commission chair Michelaine Lahaie said Tuesday the agency would look into the police's response to the allegation of sexual assault and to the reported threats to Butlin's safety. It will also look at whether the response to the sexual assault complaint was reasonable and whether any myths or stereotypes might have influenced police work.

Butlin's friends and family have alleged that the RCMP did not provide her with assistance or ensure she was safe from Duggan, who shot and killed Butlin inside her house four weeks after she first contacted police.

The agency said it received a complaint in September 2021 regarding the conduct of RCMP members and reviewed police materials, adding that it identified several areas of concern about the RCMP's response to Butlin's case and the way the force handles sexual assault investigations.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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