P.E.I. police forces review 'unfounded' sex assault files

1 / 2
P.E.I. police forces review 'unfounded' sex assault files

Police forces on P.E.I are reviewing sexual assault cases between 2014 and 2016 that have been labelled as "unfounded" — meaning investigators determined no crime occurred.

The review comes after a report in the Globe and Mail found 19 per cent of sex assault cases in Canada between 2010 and 2014 were deemed unfounded. 

P.E.I.'s rate was significantly higher, at 27 per cent.

Police in Charlottetown and Kensington did not provide data, so the numbers from P.E.I. only reflect information from the RCMP and Summerside police.

Province asks for findings

P.E.I.'s Department of Justice and Public Safety said it has asked police services across the province to review their unfounded sexual assault cases for the three-year period, and provide the findings to the minister by the end of March.

"The goal is to obtain a better understanding of local findings, to ensure consistent and accurate reporting of cases and to make sure that the necessary resources are in place to support victims reporting sexual assaults, and that those supports are closely aligned across agencies (police agencies, victim services, community supports)," the department said in an email to CBC.

The head of the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women worries the number of unfounded cases will discourage victims from reporting assaults.

"Unfortunately the statistics that we've heard reinforce this sense that people already have that they may not be believed if they decide to report an assault," said Jane Ledwell.

"It's like saying, 'We don't believe you.'"

According to a 2013 Statistics Canada report, one in 10 sexual assaults is reported to police.

'Very, very troubling'

"To know that more than a quarter of those that do make it to police are being recorded as unfounded, is very, very troubling," said Ledwell.

She's pleased to hear police on P.E.I. are conducting the reviews.

"There are tremendous opportunities to improve our sexual assault response from a health and justice perspective in Prince Edward Island, to make it possible for women and others who are assaulted to be able to report their assaults, to feel that they will be believed and to trust that it will be followed up on appropriately."

The RCMP on P.E.I., along with the Charlottetown, Summerside and Kensington police services, are conducting their own reviews. An exact number of files that will be examined is not known.

In addition, the RCMP national office is reviewing a sample of unfounded 2016 files from each province.

No one from Charlottetown or Summerside police services was available for an interview.

However, Charlottetown police said in an email that the department is not working on a deadline, and will take as much time as is required to do the review.

If the review reveals a case that wasn't considered properly investigated, Charlottetown Police Services said it will look at reopening the file.

In Summerside, police are reviewing the period between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2016, and Sgt. Ron MacLean said the force is examining all 28 investigations that were considered unfounded.

His plans are to review the paper file, unless there is a need to follow up with the investigator and the complainant.

He told CBC he plans to complete the review by March 10, and his findings would be reviewed by the chief, along with his recommendations, and then forwarded to the provincial government.

One review complete

Kensington police Chief Lewis Sutherland told CBC he has already completed his review.

"I'm totally confident we've done everything we could do."

He said there were only four unfounded cases between 2014-2016.

"Normally if there is any evidence at all, we discuss the file with the Crown."

National conference this week

Staff with Justice and Public Safety will attend a national conference March 8 in Quebec. Justice Canada Knowledge Exchange 2017 will look at how the criminal justice system responds to sexual assaults against adults.

"The upcoming conference will allow department staff to exchange knowledge with other jurisdictions on experiences associated with reporting, charging and prosecution rates of sexual assault along with promising practices," according to a statement from the department.

Following that, the department will bring together all police agencies, department staff and relevant community agencies to identify any gaps in the system and work on how to better support victims of sexual assault on P.E.I.

Diversity on forces

The Globe and Mail report suggested that based on its nationwide look at sexual assault cases, forces with more female officers had lower rates of unfounded cases.

Ledwell would like to see more diversity among police on P.E.I.

"The more people we have that are diverse, the more people we have of different genders, that are part of police forces, the  more likelihood that there are people who know those stories and maybe have those experiences."

Across the Island, there are 222 police officers, with 34 of them women:

- RCMP in P.E.I.: 125 members (21 women).

- Charlottetown Police Services: 59 members (6 women).

- Summerside Police Services: 31 members (5 women).

- Kensington Police Services: 7 members (2 women).

MORE P.E.I. NEWS | Census brings P.E.I.'s 150K population goal into question

MORE P.E.I. NEWS | P.E.I. hockey player's gesture 'restores all faith in humanity'