Newfoundland constable can't appeal rape conviction, ending case that shook province

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The country's highest court refused Thursday to hear an appeal from a Newfoundland police officer convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in 2014, bringing an end to a winding court process that has gripped the province for seven years.

The decision from the Supreme Court of Canada closes the last avenue of appeal for 46-year-old Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Carl Douglas Snelgrove, clearing the way for him to go to prison.

A jury found him guilty in provincial Supreme Court in 2021 following a mistrial the year before and a successful appeal of an acquittal in 2017. He was sentenced to four years in jail but has been out on bail pending Thursday's decision.

The news was welcomed by Ashley MacDonald, a sexual assault survivor who organized the delivery of hundreds of cards from the public to the woman who was assaulted by Snelgrove and testified at his three trials.

"People seem to feel like there is someone who's been able to stand up to the system," MacDonald said in an interview. "I'm obviously just so happy for her .... It's been so long."

The case has rocked the province since it first began in 2017, with Snelgrove's victim testifying about the night he raped her in her living room. The court heard Snelgrove was on duty when he drove the woman home from a night out with friends in downtown St. John's and then helped her get into her apartment when she couldn't find her keys.

She was 21 at the time.

The woman's name is protected by a publication ban and she became known in the province as Jane Doe. Her supporters regularly demonstrated outside the provincial Supreme Court in the province's capital, expressing their anger and solidarity as the case slowly moved through the court system.

Inside the courtroom, she testified confidently, sometimes through tears, as she was forced to repeatedly recount the details of her assault.

"You gotta know, this is this man's life, right?" Snelgrove's defence lawyer, Randy Piercey, asked her at one point during her testimony in May 2021, referring to the police officer.

"Yes, I do know that," she quickly replied. "This has been six years of my life, as well."

Lloyd Strickland, the Crown prosecutor at the trial, told reporters he was "in awe" of Jane Doe and her resolve to see the proceedings through.

MacDonald established the Thank You Project during the first trial in 2017, through which people could send cards to Jane Doe or get signs of encouragement to hang in their windows. MacDonald also erected a light-up billboard in St. John's in 2021, thanking Jane Doe for coming forward.

She estimates more than 1,000 people have signed cards, hung up a sign or pitched in to pay for the billboard.

"People kept showing up, they kept showing support," MacDonald said. "It created this community, where for some, it felt safer to be a survivor."

Snelgrove has been suspended without pay from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary since charges were laid in 2015, the force in a statement after Thursday's decision.

"The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary confirms that the criminal proceedings are complete and the public complaints process can now proceed," Const. James Cadigan said. The public complaints process will determine whether he loses his job.

In the meantime, an official with the province's special prosecutions office confirmed Thursday that Snelgrove must now head back to prison.

Since Snelgrove's conviction in 2021, several women, including a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer, have approached St. John's lawyer Lynn Moore to say they, too, were the victims of sexual assault or misconduct at the hands of members of the force. Moore filed two civil lawsuits in 2022 against the province on behalf of some of the women.

She said at the time that the women opted for civil suits in part because they had lost faith in the criminal justice system as they watched what Jane Doe went through in court.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 29, 2024.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press