B.C. woman felt 'completely unimportant' as lawyer neglected her sex assault case for 5 years
Marlene Holy says bad experience with Squamish lawyer followed 'upsetting' criminal justice process
Marlene Holy turned to Douglas Chiasson for help when she felt like the criminal justice system had failed her.
After a nine-month investigation, the man who was charged with sexually assaulting Holy signed a peace bond, leaving him without a criminal record. That didn't feel like justice, so Holy hired Chiasson, a lawyer in Squamish, to file a civil lawsuit on her behalf.
In May 2013, she paid Chiasson a $1,100 retainer, plus $30 for a courier to bring the documents to court. At the time, it seemed like action was imminent.
"He took notes and he was very personable … I was very hopeful," 32-year-old Holy remembers of her first meeting with Chiasson.
But then nothing happened.
Five years after that first meeting, no lawsuit was filed and Chiasson had ignored almost all of Holy's letters and voicemails asking for news.
"It was horrible. It was demeaning. I felt completely unimportant. I felt like the violation I was asking for help with was not important," Holy said.
"It completely made me lose faith."
Last month, Chiasson was fined $10,000 for misconduct by the Law Society of B.C. after admitting he'd taken "no substantive steps" on Holy's case. He's also written her an apology letter and returned her money.
Holy has no complaints about how the law society handled the case, but all those years of feeling ignored by someone who'd promised to help has done lasting damage. Holy's planned lawsuit was never filed, and she decided she couldn't stomach restarting that process.
"I wouldn't be able to have it go nowhere once again," she said.
'I didn't feel like I was taken seriously'
Holy's complaint dates back to 2012, when she alleges she was sexually assaulted by a supervisor at work. She reported the incident to Squamish RCMP and says she was fired from her job soon after.
She wasn't happy with how the police handled her complaint.
In a 2013 email to Squamish RCMP, she alleges she provided a constable with a statement and a list of witnesses, but then "didn't receive any returned phone calls to my messages asking for any updates."
Holy wrote, "I feel disappointed that I didn't feel like I was taken seriously and I did lose a lot of sleep over it."
Squamish RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Sascha Banks told CBC that in the years since Holy filed her police report, the detachment has hired an investigator who is specially trained in sexual assault and domestic violence, in part to ensure that investigations are completed in a timely manner and victims receive the appropriate support.
"It is unfortunate that Ms. Holy became frustrated and felt unheard through the investigation," Banks wrote in an email.
"This is never the way we want people feeling upon reporting crimes to the police, particularly that of a sexual assault survivor."
Crown approved a charge of sexual assault against Holy's former supervisor in November 2012, but the case was resolved through a peace bond signed four months later in North Vancouver provincial court.
The terms included that he have no contact with Holy for 12 months, but she felt like that wasn't an acceptable resolution.
"The person that assaulted me lives two blocks away from my dad's house," she said. "It was very upsetting."
'It takes a lot of courage'
Holy says she turned to Chiasson because he was her dad's lawyer and he was also helping a friend with a wrongful dismissal case.
It was her first time dealing with a lawyer, and in hindsight, she realizes she probably should have found someone new to handle her case early on in the process.
"I just kept on wanting to believe that he would respond," Holy said.
Holy's experience with the criminal justice system is not unusual. According to a 2017 report from Statistics Canada, only about one in five sex assaults reported to police end up in court, and just one in 10 ends with a conviction.
Raji Mangat, executive director of the non-profit legal group West Coast LEAF, said Holy's story echoes those of many women who report sexual assault.
"It takes a lot of courage to come forward knowing that the system has not been very responsive to sexual assault complaints. It's often a question of really trying to find the right officers at the right time," she said.
But Holy's experience with Chiasson is something the public rarely hears about.
"I wish I could say I was surprised, but I think that there probably are many lawyers who lack the requisite training and trauma-informed approaches that one would need to competently handle this kind of case," Mangat said.
'Her disappointment is on me'
Now that the law society has disciplined Chiasson, Holy finally feels like she has some closure. It also helped to see the case reported in a CBC News story, which attracted a flood of supportive comments from readers.
Since then, Holy has started to reconsider her decision to abandon the lawsuit.
"Obviously, my first experience with a lawyer was pretty terrible. I believe that there are good ones out there that have integrity and honour, and if I were to follow through with this I would hope to find such a lawyer," she said.
That's an avenue that Chiasson hopes she takes. In an email to CBC, he said he knows his actions have had an effect on Holy, and her feelings are understandable.
"Her disappointment is on me, not the other remaining members of the profession. She should not give up on the legal process based on this experience. I would urge her to give the legal profession a fresh start," he said.
No matter what Holy decides, she's already found peace through years of sharing her story with as many people as she can, and through reading about healing from trauma.
"I'm in a great place right now and it's taken me years to get here," she said. "I've had to move on from holding that fear of that person in town. I'm not afraid of them anymore, and there's no way that anybody can make me afraid of them."