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RCMP sexual assault reviews to be twice yearly

Brendan Burke/NNSL photoRCMP vehicle
RCMP responded to a call reporting a break and enter with a weapon at a Yellowknife residence Wednesday evening.

The NT RCMP will make changes to practices on sexual assault cases following a committee's assessment.

One such improvement is bringing representatives from the communities into the room, NT RCMP family violence coordinator Cpl. Jess Aubin said at a press conference Thursday.

He explained the move is a direct result of consultations between the police and community groups like The Status of Women Council of the NWT, speaking further to the importance of a collaborative approach.

A review committee examined NT RCMP practices in sexual assault investigations and, while officers were mostly respectful, the committee found areas where the police force should improve. NNSL file photo

Having an advocate from one of the smaller communities present is one change that will help bring greater perspective to the review process, Aubin said.

Last month, the RCMP released a report outlining findings from a Sexual Assault Investigations Review Committee (SAIRC) based on sexual assault case files reviewed in December 2019 and June 2020.

The committee brings together members of the police force with advocate groups like The Status of Women Council to ensure investigations are thorough and impartial, and to identify any systemic gaps or barriers.

While the report found that most RCMP investigations of sexual assault are “thorough, timely and conducted in a trauma-informed manner,” SAIRC found officers’ personal opinions have sometimes appeared in reports and that additional training is still needed to inform consent and combat rape myths.

Among the cases randomly selected for investigation were those labelled “unfounded,” meaning determined by police to have not occurred or not be in violation of the Criminal Code.

In 2017, an investigation by the Globe and Mail found one in five sexual assault allegations reported in Canada to have been dismissed as unfounded.

Since then, Aubin said the RCMP has introduced training to improve the use of the unfounded classification and that the NT RCMP adopted policies requiring supervisory reviews on files that are deemed unfounded.

Aubin told media that bias training, consent law and common sexual assault myths training is also mandatory for all members of the NT RCMP. While officers are often moving in and out of the territory, he said it’s the commanding officer’s priority that members are properly trained as soon as they transfer into the division.

“It’s something that we monitor quite closely to ensure that everyone is taking the appropriate training,” said Aubin.

He added, however, that further measures are clearly necessary given the report’s findings in spite of ongoing officer training.

Moving forward, SAIRC will be conducting reviews twice yearly, and releasing annual reports with its findings and recommendations for improvement.

The next review is scheduled to take place this month, followed by another in the fall.

Louise Elder, executive director of the Status of Women Council of the NWT, pointed to the need for improvements considering the territory’s high rates of sexual violence.

A Statistics Canada report from December 2020 stated that more than half of both men and women in Canada’s territories have been victims of at least one sexual or physical assault since age 15. Women were reported to be three times more likely than men to have been sexually assaulted at least once since the age of 15.

In the NWT, the report found that 52 per cent of women and 55 per cent of men had been sexually or physically assaulted since age 15 and those numbers were even higher for Indigenous groups.

Elder said SAIRC has “a very committed group working to address this,” and that they are proud of the work that’s been done so far.

“We believe that the work of the committee is making a difference and has the potential to have an impact on the RCMP response to survivors of sexual assault,” she said.