A police oversight program underway in the suburbs of Saint John aims to hold law enforcement accountable when it comes to investigating allegations of sexual violence.
The Kennebecasis Regional Police Force is implementing a program that will independently review sexual violence cases that don't result in charges.
The system is the first of its kind in the province and could transform the way sexual assault is investigated.
"It's going to be a team of reviewers, who are people who have had experience working frontline in the field of gender based violence, who will be coming together either on a quarterly basis or a semiannual basis to review … any files of a sexual nature or sexual assault not cleared by charge," said Jennifer Richard, director of strategic development for Sexual Violence NB's, a partner in the project.
Historically New Brunswick police forces have not always done well when it comes to investigating sexual violence complaints.
In a 20-month investigation published in 2017, the Globe and Mail found that New Brunswick police forces labelled sexual assault cases as "unfounded" 32 per cent of the time.
The national average was 19.39 per cent.
Richard said the program will have access to all the files, interviews and evidence that police would have when determining whether police seek charges.
"We literally sit in a room for a few days, and we go through these files, and we look at identifying any problems that there could be with the investigation," said Richard.
"Looking at, you know, where gender bias could be coming up, where we see that the officer may have relied on myths and stereotypes around sexual violence to make conclusions around the case."
Richard said the Kennebecasis regional police are a smaller force, so it's unclear exactly how many cases the program would have to review, but she was told about five or six every quarter.
While the program may lead to more charges being laid against people accused of sexual violence, Richard said that's not nessassarily the goal.
"The real overall objectives for this model, for this review process, is changing the culture, changing the policies," said Richard.
"When people have implemented this model, we have seen better investigations overall."
Police on board
The program would be able to tell police whether they should re-interview a suspect, or if something was missing during the original investigation.
Richard said the idea to implement the program originally came from the Kennebecasis regional police Chief Wayne Gallant, so it has police backing, which is important.
"Understandably, police don't usually invite people into their police force to become part of the investigative process and to review their files," said Richard.
"We're obviously going to have a lot of mechanisms in place to ensure confidentiality and that everybody's privacy is respected."
Richard said the program will help police forces have better investigations, which will encourage more victims to come forward in the future.
"If you have a better investigation … survivors are usually more likely to stay engaged throughout the process because we do see people who get to a certain point in the process and say 'this is too difficult,'" said Richard.