'Really gives me hope': Advocate says RNC officer's sexual assault sentence a step in the right direction

·3 min read
Heather Elliott says she is happy with the four-year sentence but especially with Justice Khaladkar's acknowledgment of the impact the case has had on Jane Doe. (Malone Mullin/CBC - image credit)
Heather Elliott says she is happy with the four-year sentence but especially with Justice Khaladkar's acknowledgment of the impact the case has had on Jane Doe. (Malone Mullin/CBC - image credit)
Malone Mullin/CBC
Malone Mullin/CBC

Community advocate Heather Elliott has been closely following the case of Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Doug Snelgrove in support of Jane Doe through three trials in seven years.

On Friday, Snelgrove was sentenced to four years in prison for sexual assault, and Ellott says she is happy with the verdict.

"Four years is better than I was expecting, to be honest," Elliott told CBC News Friday.

Snelgrove's name will also be listed in the national sex offender registry for the next 20 years.

While handing down the sentence, Justice Vikas Khaladkar addressed the importance of deterring people in power from acting in abusive ways.

"To see Khaladkar … acknowledge the impact that this has had on Jane really gives me hope," Elliott said.

"There isn't a lot of conversation had about the impact that not only the initial assault had on the victim, but the impact of going through the process and in Jane's case, three whole trials. To hear Khaladkar really not only acknowledge that, but to say that he took that into consideration while coming down with this sentence, it shows me that we are, albeit slowly, moving in the right direction."

In 2014, Snelgrove drove Jane Doe — the name used to protect the victim's identity — home from a club in his patrol car and then sexually assaulted her in her apartment.

Snelgrove was first arrested in 2015.

At the first trial in 2017, he was acquitted of sexual assault. The verdict was later overturned due to a mistake the judge had made in defining consent for the jury. The second trial in 2020 was declared a mistrial due to an error the judge had made while dismissing jurors.

Snelgrove was found guilty in May and has been in custody since a sentencing hearing in September.

Elliott said she and other activists were expecting a sentence of two and a half to three years.

The Crown had been asking for five years, the defence for 18 to 24 months.

Malone Mullin/CBC
Malone Mullin/CBC

Snelgrove now has 30 days to appeal the verdict. Elliott said she will continue working toward a change in how sexual assault cases are handled in the province.

"A lot of the energy of the activist community will be … to really push for that kind of true change so that we can do better by our survivors as a whole," said Elliott.

The domestic violence court in New Brunswick, said Elliott, has set an example of how to approach sexual assault cases.

The court was established in 2007 as a pilot project and offers support resources and treatment for both victims and assailants, in addition to adjudicating on domestic violence cases, according to the government of New Brunswick.

"There is a way for us to restructure how we approach these cases when they come forward and how we not only support our survivors, but find resources for perpetrators to try and break the cycle of violence," said Elliott.

Malone Mullin/CBC
Malone Mullin/CBC

Elliott said the Snelgrove case, along with sexual assault allegations brought forward against seven RNC officers earlier this year, contributed to diminishing public trust in the police force.

"The first key step is not only an acknowledgement that, yes, something is wrong here and we're trying to fix it, but also taking concrete steps to show us that it's not just lip service, that you are willing to take action," she said.

"I don't believe that the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, as a public-facing institution, has really done a lot to try and start rebuilding those bridges."

Elliott said although it is Snelgrove's right to appeal the court's decision, she hopes that Jane Doe won't have to go through another trial.

"I think that's just absolutely abhorrent if we get to that point, there is absolutely no reason she should have to be put through that."

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