British Columbia

'Is this their investigation process?' Indigenous advocate calls for RCMP transparency after disturbing video

A video showing an RCMP officer from West Kelowna, B.C., questioning the validity of an Indigenous teen's sexual assault report is raising more questions.

RCMP say training for investigators is being developed

Jenna Forbes of the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society says it's important for Indigenous people to come forward with sexual assault allegations, but it's just as important for them to be aware of the RCMP's investigation policy so they can feel safe. (Jessica Wood)

A video showing an RCMP officer from West Kelowna, B.C., questioning the validity of an Indigenous teen's sexual assault report is raising more questions.

The 2012 video was released as part of disclosure in an ongoing civil suit. The CBC is not naming the young woman as she was a minor at the time of the RCMP interview.

Jenna Forbes, executive director of Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society, was outraged when she saw the video and wants to know what the RCMP's policy is for investigating sexual assault cases. 

 "Is this their investigation process?" she asked, speaking about the RCMP's line of questioning in the video. 

In the 2012 video, an officer asks the 17-year-old if she was "turned on" by the assault. While conducting the interview he's referring to some sheets of paper in his hand, looking down and up as if he is reading from them.

"Because I'm sure that there's an investigation policy and if the [officer] hasn't followed policy we need to know what's going to happen to the officer," Forbes said.

The video was released after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ordered disclosure of material related to the sexual assault case involving a former Kelowna-based social worker. 3:38

She says if the officer was referring to a set of questions, formalized in an RCMP policy, the public should have access to it.

"If that is the policy, if that is a script, we need to see what those scripts look like," Forbes said.

The RCMP told the CBC they cannot comment on the specifics of the case as it "is subject to restrictions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, an ongoing Criminal Code matter and civil litigation proceedings."

When asked what their policy is regarding sexual assault investigations, the RCMP said their policy is not public. A spokesperson told the CBC that the RCMP is currently developing training programs for officers to do investigations that are trauma-informed and culturally sensitive. 

Forced to apologize

Forbes said she was deeply saddened to learn that the woman — a teen in foster care at the time — was allegedly forced by her social worker to write letters of apology to the accused man  and the RCMP for wasting their time.

"I felt betrayed," the woman said in a recent interview with CBC.

She is one of nearly a dozen plaintiffs suing former Kelowna-based social worker Robert Riley Saunders for allegedly using his position to cut them off from family support and deprive them of funds.

A statement of response from the ministry has not been filed and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

Marion Buller, chief commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, says many women will not report a sexual assault because they feel they won't be believed. (CBC)

Forbes said the RCMP must do better to protect vulnerable women.

"When we see opinions trumping an actual investigation, that can allow a predator to walk free," Forbes said. 

Extra vulnerability 

Indigenous women often face an extra layer of vulnerability of not being believed, according to Marion Buller, the chief commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

"A lot of the questioning, a lot of the attitude is based in racist stereotypes of Indigenous women that they are somehow more sexually available or that they are more likely to consent than not, based on race," Buller said.

"It just adds an extra dimension to what is the difficult relationship between Indigenous people and all police forces," she added.

She pointed to historical tension between Indigenous women and police — including the RCMP's role in removing children from their homes and taking them to residential school by force — that have led to a deep mistrust of the force.

Jenna Forbes of the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society says about 98% of the Indigenous women clients she sees do not feel that they will be believed when they file a sexual assault report. (Angela Sterritt)

During the inquiry's hearings Buller said she heard many Indigenous women say they will not report a sexual assault because they believe they will not be heard.

"I'm not finding fault in them at all, but when women don't report to the police, they are not being protected and this increased their vulnerability," she said. 

Hope for change

The RCMP admits that out of an estimated 635,000 incidents of sexual assault in Canada each year, about 90 per cent are not reported to police. Forbes says she believes that rate for Indigenous women is closer to 98 per cent.

If a woman doesn't feel comfortable going to a police station, Forbes adds, she can file a third-party statement with an organization that has victim support services or file an affidavit with an advocate. 

As for the woman who reported the sexual assault in 2012, she hopes RCMP officers are getting the training they need.

"They should be doing sensitivity training for sexual assault survivors as well as cultural training on how to have a relationship with First Nations people," she said.

Angela Sterritt explains why a video of an officer casting doubt on an indigenous teen alleging she'd been sexually assaulted has angered people. 9:40