Lawsuit alleges London police sex-assault investigation discriminatory

A woman whose sexual assault complaint was deemed unfounded by London, Ont. police is suing the force, alleging the way investigators handle such cases constitutes systemic discrimination.

In a lawsuit filed last Friday, Ava Williams alleges police officers relied on myths related to rape and gender to evaluate and ultimately dismiss her case in 2010.

Williams says in her statement of claim that, among other things, the detective who interviewed her suggested she had in fact consented to sex, and repeatedly alluded to her drinking and to the fact that she had kissed her alleged attacker earlier in the night.

"Despite the clear and unequivocal evidence of the plaintiff that she told the assailant 'no' and to stop as he continued to sexually assault her, and the fact that the plaintiff was too intoxicated to consent, Det. (Paul) Gambriel repeatedly and insistently reframed the situation as one that was consensual," the claim alleges

Investigation infringed on rights

Aside from seeking unspecified damages, Williams — who has agreed to be identified — is asking a court to declare the investigation infringed on her constitutional rights.

She also wants the court to order a panel of experts to review how the force investigates sexual assault complaints, as well as review previous cases deemed unfounded.

The claim says the London force dismissed 690 of 2,278 sexual assault complaints as unfounded between 2010 and 2014, adding that was a significantly higher proportion than other law enforcement agencies across Canada.

"A claim classified as 'unfounded' is a category that the LPS and many law enforcement agencies use to conclude that no crime occurred, which usually means that the complainant was simply not believed. That determination is often based on stereotypical conceptions about women and about sexual assault victims," it says.

"The unfounded rate reflects systemic discrimination against the plaintiff and other women who have made complaints of sexual assault during this same time period."

The allegations in Williams' statement of claim have not been proven in court and no statement of defence has yet been filed.

London police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Systemic problem highlighted

Williams says it wasn't until the publication of a Globe and Mail investigation highlighting her case earlier this year that she realized many other complainants had similar experiences.

"I am bringing the claim to achieve justice for all sexual assault victims who have been discriminated against by the (London Police Service) and to ensure that the LPS and other police agencies enact meaningful policies to combat systemic discrimination," she said in a release.

Her lawyers say the suit is believed to be the first case of its kind "designed to prove that victims of such discriminatory conduct by the police are entitled to be awarded damages under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

They say the suit has been brought in the interest of all sexual assault complainants who had their complaints dismissed by the London force in the last seven years, adding they may seek to have it certified as a class action later on.

London police reopened their investigation into Williams' complaint in light of the Globe story, Williams' statement of claim said.

Gambriel, the detective who interviewed her, has been cleared of professional misconduct in his handling of her case, the claim noted. He is named as a defendant in the suit along with the force.