Greater Sudbury Police review 'unfounded' sexual assault cases, update policies

Greater Sudbury Police say sexual assault cases coded as unfounded are being reviewed, and steps are being taken to ensure cases are more focused on the victim.

10 sexual assault cases are considered baseless each year

Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen says police have updated sexual assault case policies and procedures following an in-depth review of investigations between 2010 and 2016. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)
Why are the number of unfounded sexual assault cases in northern Ontario so high? Greater Sudbury Police are undergoing a major review. We find out more about the changes made so far ... including the discovery of a report-filing error. 6:45
Greater Sudbury Police say sexual assault cases coded as unfounded are being reviewed, and steps are being taken to ensure cases are more focused on the victim.

This comes in response to an article published on February 3 in the Globe and Mail called "Unfounded" that stated 33 per cent of sexual assault cases were considered baseless in Sudbury. 

An extensive police review followed, and it revealed that officers have been classifying some sexual assault cases as unfounded when in actuality they cannot be proven.

The actual number of sexual assault cases that are dismissed is seven per cent, which equates to about 10 cases per year.

"We're faced with a difficult situation of which bucket do we put it in," Pedersen said at a news conference on Wednesday at the N'Swakamok Native Friendship Centre.

"They should've been put in a bucket that shows that they're [investigations] open and require more information."

The error was made because of how Statistics Canada allows officers to categorize sexual assault investigations, according to Pedersen.

Unconscious biases, accusatory language found

"Even seven per cent is too much," said Nancy Horan, manager of the violence intervention and prevention program at Health Sciences North, and head of the Voices for Women Sudbury Sexual Assault Centre.

"What I ideally want is, I want women or men or any victims to be able to come forward and feel safe."

Horan admits that may take some time, as most sexual assault cases do not lead to a conviction. 

Still, Horan said she remains hopeful that changes made by police may increase the odds of achieving justice.

Police recently completed an in depth-analysis of sexual assault cases from 2010 to 2016.

A Sexual Assault Review Team was formed. It confirmed there were internal missteps, including fragmented report checks, unconscious biases and the use of language that could be perceived by a victim as accusatory.

Review to continue

As a result, Sudbury Police have updated internal policies and procedures, and officers have attended and will continue to learn about sexual assault training.

The police service is working on developing a new model to deal with sexual assault cases.

It is hoped the provincial and federal governments will create a standardized framework for police services, as this would ensure investigations are done and reported in a consistent manner across the province and country.

"The review had, in my opinion, a very positive effect on us and has pushed us forward in our sexual assault investigations," said Greater Sudbury Police Staff Sgt. Jordan Buchanan.

"Our hope is that it will continue."