British Columbia

Vancouver police apologize to sex assault victim for handling of case

Vancouver Police Department Deputy Chief Constable Adam Palmer has apologized for the way officers handled a sexual assault case.

Police showed lack of empathy and poor communication on case, says complainant

Catherine Francioli says the Vancouver Police Department mishandled her case, taking too long to gather evidence and communicating poorly with her. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

Vancouver police have apologized to a woman for the way officers handled her sexual assault complaint two years ago — and outlined ways it can improve how future cases are handled. 

Chief Const. Adam Palmer said "there could have been more timely communication" with the victim, who told police she was attacked on an East Vancouver street in June 2016.

"We acknowledge that and we're sorry that happened." Palmer told the police board Thursday.

Catherine Francioli, 33, filed a complaint in January 2018, saying police weren't empathetic about her case and kept her in the dark.

Francioli went to police after she said she was attacked in East Vancouver by a man who threw her to the ground and attempted to sexually assault her.

'I couldn't move'

"He just, from what I remember, knocked me to the ground and was on top of me and had pinned me to the concrete and I couldn't move," she said. 

Francioli broke free and called police. But she said officers on her case did little and failed to keep her abreast of developments. She said there were no media releases on the attack. 

"I felt like I was screaming into the darkness and no one was calling back," she said. ​

No charges were laid in Francioli's case due to lack of evidence. 

Lack of empathy

Francioli decided to share her story publicly because she believes police mishandled her case and that her case is reflective of a larger, systemic problem in the way sexual assaults are handled by the VPD.

"There is nobody to talk to and the system that they're using right now, whether it's forensic or general investigation, is slow. I think slow enough that a lot of these cases might get lost in the mix. Mine definitely did," she said.

The review of the complaint says there was a "reduction in communication" with Francioli, and said this was atypical of how cases are handled.

The review said the officer in charge of the case was working temporarily in the sex crimes unit on a mentorship program and later moved back to patrol, which contributed to the reduced communication.

Palmer said police will try to improve how files are cared for after a mentorship program finishes.

'Empty apology'

Francioli said the process of gathering evidence was slow. It took four months until results of DNA testing came back and she was asked to do a photo line-up six months after the attack.

By then, too much time had passed, she said, and the photo lineup results weren't successful.

Despite the police apology, Francioli isn't hopeful things will change. 

"I feel like it's an empty apology. It doesn't really mean a lot to me," she said, adding that she thinks the board didn't address the broader issues. 

The suspect in her case was arrested after another attack. 

"That's what concerns me. If [the investigation] doesn't happen in a timely manner, it will happen again."