'Errors' made in Coun. Sean Chu sex assault investigation: police commission review

·6 min read
The Calgary Police Commission has released its completed review of CPS's handling of 1997 allegations that Sean Chu — now a city councillor who was then a police officer —sexually assaulted a teen. (CBC - image credit)
The Calgary Police Commission has released its completed review of CPS's handling of 1997 allegations that Sean Chu — now a city councillor who was then a police officer —sexually assaulted a teen. (CBC - image credit)

Policies were not followed and "errors" were made during the investigation into Coun. Sean Chu's alleged sexual assault on a 16-year-old girl when he was a 34-year-old Calgary police officer, according to a police commission review of how the service handled the allegations.

Chu was accused of sexually assaulting the teen in 1997.

Criminal charges were not laid but he was disciplined by the Calgary Police Service (CPS) after being found guilty of discreditable conduct.

Chu has previously described the encounter at his home as "consensual touching."

CBC News is identifying the victim only as HH to protect her identity.

Internal investigation never completed

On Oct. 15, 2021, just days before the municipal election, CBC News first broke the story that Chu had sexual contact with a minor, kicking off a flurry of media reports on the issue. After that, the Calgary Police Commission committed to reviewing how CPS handled the complaint.

As part of the review, the commission was given access to disciplinary hearing transcripts, appeal transcripts, a trial binder with lawsuit documents, legal memos, letters and opinions.

It has now issued an eight-page summary of its findings and recommendations.

The review identified some policies that were not properly followed in the years after the alleged assault was reported. It pointed to failings centred around when the disciplinary investigation began and how information was communicated to the teen involved.

Most notably, after prosecutors declined to pursue charges, HH was assured by CPS that the service would immediately initiate an internal disciplinary investigation.

'Errors' made

That disciplinary probe didn't happen.

"That investigation does not appear to have been completed," wrote the commission's public complaint director, Deborah Petriuk, in her report.

The "errors" made by CPS do not appear to have impacted the outcome of the case, said commission chair Shawn Cornett, however, "they created significant delay and mistrust in the process."

The commission says the service "fully co-operated with the review and provided extensive historical records from the case."

'Unlikely' case would be handled the same now

Ultimately, all four of the commission's recommendations have been implemented since 1997.

"It is very unlikely that the matter would be handled the same in 2022," wrote Petriuk.

Today, the service automatically investigates when criminal allegations are made against an officer and that goes ahead whether or not charges are laid.

The biggest difference since 1997, wrote Petriuk, is the existence of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which was founded in 2008 and is tasked with investigating serious or sensitive allegations of police misconduct.

In a written statement, the Calgary Police Service thanked the commission for its "diligent examination of this file" and said it is reviewing the full report.

"The complaint process that dates back to 1997 in this case would not meet our current standards or expectations around compassionate and professional communication with a complainant, especially in this case a youth," said CPS.

The alleged assault

Chu has repeatedly said he did not know HH was underage when he encountered her in 1997.

But court documents and transcripts from his disciplinary hearing suggest the pair had met several times over the previous two years, including when she was involved in an altercation at her school.

In August 1997, when Chu met HH and her friend at a Calgary restaurant, he was 34 years old and she was 16.

Chu has previously described the establishment as a pub where patrons had to be over the age of 18, but in its investigative findings, the commission described the venue as a restaurant.

Timeline

The following is a timeline of the various investigations and appeals reviewed by the Calgary Police Commission:

  • August 12, 1997: 34-year-old Sean Chu allegedly sexually assaults a 16-year-old girl (HH) at his home. He later describes the encounter as "consensual touching."

  • August 19, 1997: One week after the incident, HH reports the alleged assault to her school's resource officer, who takes the matter to the Calgary Police Service.

  • End of August 1997: HH is told the case is being reviewed by the Crown prosecutor's office, "which is the usual procedure when criminal charges are being considered."

  • January 1998: CPS detectives receive a letter indicating prosecutors won't be pursuing the case as "criminal charges were not supported."

  • January 1998: HH is assured by CPS that the service would immediately initiate an internal disciplinary investigation.

  • February 1998: HH learns files complaints against investigating officers.

  • July 1998: CPS dismissed the complaints against the investigating officers.

  • August 1998: HH appeals to the Law Enforcement Review Board (LERB), and although dismissal of the complaints against the officers are upheld, the LERB directs an internal investigation into Chu's 1997 conduct.

  • October 1999: Chu appeals, asking the Alberta Court of Appeal to halt the investigation.

  • February 2002: HH formally files a police misconduct complaint against Chu for the 1997 incident. This complaint is investigated. It's considered a public complaint investigation rather than an internal investigation.

  • March 2002: Chu wins his appeal and the internal investigation does not move forward.

  • January 2003: Chu is found guilty of discreditable conduct. A five-year reprimand is placed on his file. He is also ordered to work with CPS's ethics committee.

HH appealed the decision to the Law Enforcement Review Board, but by that point she was a young woman in university in another country and was not able to attend the hearings. The appeal was dismissed.

Lack of communication

CPS was to blame for muddying the waters and causing five years' worth of delay for HH by failing to explain the difference between a public complaint versus an internal investigation, the commission found.

An internal investigation is triggered by any complaint made by someone within the service, the director of law enforcement or minister of justice.

A public complaint is a formal allegation of police misconduct filed by a civilian.

"It is believed that this lack of communication at certain key points [was] the cause of future issues," reads the commission's report.

'It was not OK'

The commission said its recommendations have all been addressed by CPS in the years since the reported sexual assault.

Information about the complaints process is now included on CPS's website. There are regular meetings between the professional standards unit and the police chief, and internal investigations are automatically triggered when criminal allegations are made against an officer.

The commission also addressed the 2002 requirement that Chu help develop the ethics course. Now, officers who require additional training "are no longer tasked with helping to train other officers on the subject over which they were disciplined."

"A teenage girl came to the service with serious allegations about an officer, and the service did not provide her with the compassionate support she needed to navigate what is a complex and intimidating process," said Cornett, the police commission chair.

"It was not OK then, and it would not be OK now."