The RCMP looked at more than 30,000 of its previous investigations into sexual violence and found “consistent gaps” in the way it was handled, including some cases where investigators did not interview victims and suspects.
The review, which looked at investigations into sexual violence that took place between 2015 and 2017 and did not lead to allegations, sent 327 files for further investigation, about one percent of all files.
Of these, 242 were reopened, resulting in 26 charges being sworn in.
“Although this number appears small in light of the total number of dossiers reviewed, it should be emphasized that dossiers were only recommended for reopening and / or further investigative steps when serious investigative issues were identified and where it was assessed that further steps could potentially lead to a different outcome (eg in formulated or recommended allegations), ”RCMP spokesperson Robin Percival said in an email to CBC News.
Reviewing past investigations was something the RCMP promised later an explosive report from the Globe and Mail flaws uncovered in how police across Canada handle sexual assault allegations.
The newspaper’s investigation found that investigators dismiss about one in five cases of sexual assault as unfounded, a much higher rate than other types of crime.
The RCMP established the National Sexual Assault Review Team (SART) in 2017 and announced that it would review past sexual assault cases due to investigative deficiencies.
“The review found consistent deficiencies in some files, which required action to fill gaps in training and supervision,” the RCMP said.
Percival said the RCMP found that, in some cases, no victim interviews were conducted, while in others, investigators neglected to interview the suspect. The review team also noted a lack of documentation in some cases and cases of artifacts not presented for laboratory analysis.
The victim’s attorney isn’t surprised
In some cases, officers have failed to use the RCMP’s Violent Crime Link Analysis System, which is intended to help investigators identify serial and criminal crimes.
Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Vancouver-based Battered Women’s Support Services, said the results are hardly surprising.
“These findings would be consistent with what we see at the forefront every day,” he said. “What we end up doing most of the time is having to defend the police to follow their own policies and procedures, like conducting a proper investigation.”
But dismissing the police and requesting reviews takes time, he said.
“How much time does anyone have in their day in terms of holding the police accountable for what their job is?” she said.
“To what extent can survivors expect the criminal legal system to do so [offer] a measure of justice? “
Percival said the review team used a three-step system to review cases. They will begin by reviewing an electronic file and reporting any investigative deficiencies. If a reviewer felt that a file had not been properly reviewed, it was submitted for a minor review.
A smaller group of reviewers was then tasked with recommending specific files for follow-up. Individual reviewers then determined whether additional investigation could change the outcome of specific files and made recommendations based on that determination.
Most cases referred to divisions have seen action
Investigators acted on 74% of the files returned to the divisions.
Of the files that remained closed, Percival said local investigators may have other information that was not available for SART. She said further information may have “prompted local investigators to re-evaluate the file and handle it differently than SART’s recommendations.”
The RCMP said that moving forward, its review team will now regularly review sexual assault investigations that end without charge.
The force said it also plans this year to conduct a review of the investigation file into sexual assaults involving young people between the ages of 12 and 17.
Percival said part of the team’s mandate is to review many types of sexual assault investigations, “particularly those involving potentially vulnerable populations.”
Despite promises from RCMP headquarters, MacDougall said she is not convinced that much will change on the ground.
“I don’t expect there has been any learning that will actually reach the patrol officers on the front line,” he said.
“I don’t expect there will be any lasting changes and I don’t think I’m wrong.”