The Calgary Police Service is adopting a new model for sexual assault investigations that will see outside agencies review cases officers have deemed to be unfounded.

Known as the Philadelphia Model because of its adoption by the police service in that U.S. city 17 years ago, the approach is meant to ensure sexual assault allegations are thoroughly and properly investigated.

Danielle Aubry with Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse thanked the CPS for adopting what she described as "a best-practice model" that "welcomes expert, external community input."

"It brings together, very specifically, front-line sexual assault service providers to examine police files," she said.

"It's a big step. It's a different way of doing things. Calgary, I think is the first big centre in Canada to do this and I'm quite proud of that."

Privacy will be protected

Staff Sgt. Bruce Walker said the files will be stripped of any private information that could identify victims but will otherwise be presented in full to the review committee.

"They will have access to other details in the files and we will walk through every step of the investigation that occurred," he said.

Walker said the move comes in response to a national Globe & Mail investigation into sexual assault cases across Canada that found, in many jurisdictions, the rate of cases being deemed unfounded was higher than would be expected.

Danielle Aubry

Danielle Aubry, CEO of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA), welcomed the move by Calgary police. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Nationally, about 19 per cent of cases were classified as unfounded, according to the newspaper's investigation, while academic research suggests the false-reporting rate is between two and eight per cent.

Walker said Calgary's rate was about 10 per cent.

"If we even find one file where we have done a disservice to a victim of sexual violence and if we can make that right ... then I think we've done a service to the community," he said.

The agencies that the police are partnering with include:

  • Calgary Sexual Assault Response Team.
  • Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse.
  • Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre.
  • Alberta Ministry of Status of Women.
  • Mount Royal University Sexual Violence Response and Awareness Coordinator.

Calgary cases reviewed

After the unfounded-rate story made national news, Calgary reviewed its own unfounded sexual offence cases from the past five years.

That resulted in one case being re-opened for further investigation and 47 others being reclassified to reflect that an offence may have occurred but the investigation cannot proceed unless more evidence becomes available.

Alberta Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean welcomed the adoption of the Philadelphia Model for future sexual assault investigations in Calgary.

"The vast majority of survivors of sexual violence are women, and I hope this helps them feel safe to come forward to tell their story," she said in a statement.

"I want every survivor to know we believe them, and they deserve to be treated fairly and with respect."