British Columbia

Kelowna RCMP addresses criticism about sexual assault investigations

Kelowna RCMP has been in the spotlight for how the detachment handles sexual assault investigations but the superintendent says the team is hoping to change public perceptions.

‘There's an enthusiasm within the detachment to demonstrate to the municipality that we can do better’

A dozen sexual assault cases in Kelowna, B.C., are being reinvestigated by the RCMP after they were originally deemed 'unfounded.' (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Kelowna RCMP has been in the spotlight for how the detachment handles sexual assault investigations but the superintendent says the team is hoping to change public perceptions.

Last fall, Statistics Canada released numbers showing that forty per cent of sexual assault cases reported to Kelowna RCMP were dismissed as unfounded — three times the national average. 

"When we first saw the numbers, I was surprised obviously," said Brent Mundle, superintendent of the Kelowna RCMP. 

A national RCMP Sexual Assault Review Team investigated and recently determined that there was an underlying clerical error in how the cases were being classified that skewed the statistics, which actually fall more in line with provincial and national averages. 

"The coverage recently has had an impact on our members, we've got some very dedicated members that do some great investigations and I see that every day," Mundle told Chris Walker, host of CBC's Daybreak South.

"There's an enthusiasm within the detachment to demonstrate to the municipality that we can do better."

The initial reports brought the detachment under heavy public scrutiny, with numerous women talking to CBC News and other media about their experiences.

"The numbers that were being released in the media certainly brought light to the issue and people then stepped forward," Mundle said. 

"We saw within the community a large amount of public opinion by certain individuals who stepped forward with concerns about the way they believe their investigations were handled."

12 cases re-opened

The national team that reviewed Kelowna's files called for 12 cases that were initially deemed "unfounded" to be reinvestigated. 

CBC spoke with one woman about her experience reporting a sexual assault to Kelowna RCMP and agreed not to identify her. 

"Law enforcement is to uphold justice but when it comes to sexual assault ... it's not what you're expecting would happen," she said. 

She described "the trauma of having to explain what happened and feeling judged" by officers. 

"It's very difficult to come forward and talk about such a difficult subject," Mundle said.

"But some of those interviews questions do have to be asked around the circumstances of the event and sometimes those questions are very personal in nature." 

Staff are being given additional training in response to the review, including trauma-informed practices and bias awareness. Kelowna RCMP is also creating a dedicated sexual assault unit.

A still from this 2012 RCMP interview shows a male officer interviewing an Indigenous teenager who complained about a sexual assault. The officer asked her if she was 'turned on at all' by the alleged attack. (RCMP)

Widespread criticism

The numbers from Statistics Canada aren't the only issue the Kelowna detachment has faced in recent months. There are a number of official complaints against officers, including charges of sexual assault and charges of breach of trust related to sexual misconduct against former Mounties. 

A 2012 video released publicly last year shows a male RCMP officer in Kelowna interviewing an Indigenous teenager who was reporting a sexual assault. The officer asked if she was 'turned on at all' by the incident

"I can understand where that would impact the confidence in our detachment but these events, in my opinion, are isolated to individuals," Mundle said.

"To suggest there's an overall culture, I'm not convinced of that."

He said the detachment is "striving" to make improvements when it comes to some of its investigations.

To learn more, click on the audio link below:

Kelowna RCMP has been in the spotlight for how the detachment handles sexual assault investigations but the superintendent says the team is hoping to change public perceptions. 12:45

With files from Daybreak North

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