Royal Newfoundland Constabulary changes policy amid sexual misconduct allegations

·3 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — As allegations of sexual misconduct and assault piled up against members of Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial police force last year, the force quietly introduced new rules about transporting members of the public.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Patrick Roche alerted officers to the new policy on Sept. 10, 2021, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press through an access to information request. That policy was updated again on June 10, 2022.

The policy says officers can only transport members of the public in their police vehicle as part of a call for service. If there is an emergency situation and an officer must offer to transport someone outside of a call for service, they must notify the force's communications centre and provide the time and vehicle mileage at the start and end of the ride.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has been at the centre of allegations of sexual assault and misconduct that began with Const. Carl Douglas Snelgrove. He was convicted on May 15, 2021, of sexually assaulting a woman while on duty after offering her a ride home in his police vehicle from downtown St. John's, N.L.

Snelgrove went to trial three times for the charge following a successful appeal and a mistrial. During his first trial, in 2017, Snelgrove testified that it was "not uncommon" for officers to drive civilians home. He is appealing the latest verdict.

In July 2021, St. John's lawyer Lynn Moore said she had been contacted by women with allegations of sexual assault or misconduct against members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, some after they'd been offered rides home from on-duty officers.

The province's police oversight agency then investigated complaints that at least one on-duty officer other than Snelgrove acted inappropriately after offering women rides home from downtown. Its report released last month said the force should have done more to investigate one such allegation.

Moore this year filed a civil lawsuit against the province on behalf of a police officer who alleges she was sexually assaulted by now-retired sergeant Robert Baldwin after he offered her a ride home from downtown St. John's while he was on duty. Baldwin denies the allegations "in their entirety," according to court documents.

The allegations have not been tested in court and no criminal charges have been filed.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Supt. Tom Warren acknowledged to reporters in July 2021 that force policies were outdated. "In terms of transporting females home, that's not something that we should be doing," Warren said.

In an emailed statement, Moore said the force has known since the victim in the Snelgrove case first came forward in 2014 that police officers were offering rides to women and posing a danger. "Why they chose to wait until 2021 to take this modest, zero-cost step, is beyond me," Moore wrote.

Under the new policy, officers must take down the name of the person they drove and the reason they drove them. They also have to report anything "unusual (or) unacceptable that happens during the conveyance," including "inappropriate comments" and behaviour, and generate a file about it.

Roche stressed in his notice to Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers that the contents of the force's policy and procedures manual are confidential. The force did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the new policy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2022.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press