British Columbia

Indigenous woman interrogated by RCMP over sexual assault claim leading protest at Kelowna detachment

An Indigenous woman in Kelowna is co-organizing a rally outside the Kelowna RCMP detachment on Saturday to demand an independent investigation into how police respond to and investigate sexual assault reports.

'I had to write apology letters to the adult who sexually assaulted me,' says activist

Aden Withers is one of more than 100 former youth who have accused former social worker Robert Riley Saunders of neglect and mistreatment. (Brady Strachan / CBC)

Aden Withers still has a hard time talking about the trauma she's been through since she reported a sexual assault to the Kelowna RCMP seven years ago.

In 2012, when she was 17 years old, Withers says she found herself in an interview room with an RCMP officer who asked her if she was "turned on" by the attack.

Instead of believing her, the Indigenous woman said the officer threatened to charge her with mischief unless she entered a restorative justice program. 

"In my restorative justice, I had to write apology letters to the adult who sexually assaulted me, to the social worker and to [the officer in charge of the investigation]," she said.

"I had to write letters of apology to them for being sexually assaulted."

In June, she launched a civil lawsuit against the RCMP officer who interrogated her along with the attorney general of Canada and B.C.'s minister of justice.

Speaking out publicly 

This spring Withers, whose legal name is Alicia Withers, spoke with CBC News anonymously about how she was questioned, but now she is sharing her story publicly in a effort draw attention to the way the police force handles sexual assault reports.

On Saturday, she is co-organizing a protest in front of the Kelowna RCMP detachment.

"I identified myself because I wanted to give victims a voice and I want people in the community to see that these are actually community members and not just a statistic," she said.

"I feel it is important to put a face to survivors."

Withers said she and other activists want to draw attention to the high number of sexual assault reports that investigators in Kelowna have dismissed. 

Statistics Canada numbers from 2017 and 2018 show the rate of sexual assaults deemed "unfounded" by the Kelowna RCMP was 42 and 40 per cent, respectively.

That compares to a provincial average of about 15 per cent and a national average of 14 per cent over the same time period.

Calls for an independent investigation

Kelowna RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Meghan Foster has said "a review about what's contributed to this statistic is underway." 

That's not good enough for Withers, who said she and other activists want an outside agency to investigate how the Kelowna RCMP respond to sexual assault reports.

Foster did not respond to CBC News about Wither's demands but deferred to RCMP National Headquarters in Ottawa.


Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan