British Columbia

Kelowna RCMP dismisses 40 per cent of sexual assault claims over last 2 years, StatsCan says

RCMP are struggling to explain why 40 per cent of sexual assault allegations in Kelowna are deemed "unfounded," amid calls for a sex crimes unit to be established in the city.

Police force says it is conducting a review into 'what's contributed to this statistic'

RCMP are struggling to explain why 40 per cent of sexual assault allegations in Kelowna are deemed "unfounded," amid calls for a sex crimes unit to be established in the city. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The Kelowna RCMP is struggling to explain statistics that show the force dismisses about 40 per cent of the sexual assault complaints it receives — three times the provincial and national average.

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.

Statistics Canada has released sexual assault numbers for the past two years after a decade-long hiatus, during which it worked to standardize the definition of "unfounded." 

The agency says it revised the definition of founded and unfounded complaints in 2017 to improve "comparability."

It says the changes will be phased in over time starting with the reporting of 2019 data. However, StatsCan says that means the way in which the figures were reported in 2017 and 2018 may not be comparable across police services but should become more reliable over time.

The Kelowna RCMP declined an interview for this story and did not offer an immediate explanation for the apparently high numbers. 

In an emailed statement, Cpl. Meghan Foster said "a review about what's contributed to this statistic is underway." 

'They have a problem that needs to be addressed'

For one survivor, it's clear what's behind the numbers.

"I think they have a problem that needs to be addressed," she told the CBC's Chris Walker.

The woman, who CBC has agreed not to name, said she was raped by three people at age 15 in 1986 and reported it to the police in 2018. She said her file was closed after a cursory investigation, which she says consisted of the police simply calling her assailant and asking if he was guilty. 

Kelowna RCMP would not comment on the case, except to confirm the file was closed for lack of evidence.

Reporting the assault was "very intimidating," the woman said. "They can be very condescending. At one point, they asked me if I consented. I was 15. I was unconscious. On what possible planet could I have consented to being gang raped?"

"The impact of this is more than a perpetrator getting away with something," said Michelle Novakowski, the  executive director of the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society. "It's about the impact on the women and the girls. Not being believed is devastating and it deepens the traumatic impact and can be life-altering."

Novakowski said only about two per cent of sexual assault claims are fabricated. 

She says the Kelowna statistics reinforce the need for a specialized sex crimes unit in the Okanagan and better training in the meantime.

The woman who reported her rape in 2018 agrees.

"I would like there to be a sexual assault unit. I don't see it happening in this town, because I'm a cynic now," she said. "I would like them to understand rape culture. I would like for them to understand the language that they use. I would like them to take it seriously."

In an email, the RCMP reiterated that all survivors of sexual assault should "feel comfortable bringing their allegations to the RCMP… and trust investigators to thoroughly and professionally investigate these crimes."

They say their review of the sexual assault statistics should be complete by Nov. 8.

With files from Christine Coulter

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