High number of sexual assault complaints against Waterloo region police: SIU data
WRPS received most complaints compared to 6 Ontario forces serving similar populations, data since 2017 shows
According to 2017-18 data obtained from Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, Waterloo Regional Police Service had the highest number of sexual assault investigations into their officers compared with six other Ontario police services serving a similar population size.
In 2017, the SIU launched nine sexual assault investigations into WRPS members. In 2018, the SIU launched eight sexual assault investigations into into WRPS members. On March 10, 2019, the SIU launched another sexual assault investigation into a WRPS member.
CBC News analyzed the number of sexual assault investigations launched by the SIU into officers on police forces that serve populations similar in size to Waterloo region:
According to the 2016 census, Waterloo region has a population of over 535,000. Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Niagara, Simcoe and Middlesex police services serve populations between 400,000 and 650,000.
'Quite frankly, it's disappointing'
Waterloo Regional Police Service Chief Bryan Larkin said he is trying to transform his service's internal culture, in part by changing the recruiting process.
"The reality is, one is too many... It's not tolerable, it won't be accepted and quite frankly, it's disappointing," he said.
He says WRPS is also working with an external consultant around equity and inclusion.
"We're asking for the community's patience in how we continue to move and transform culture. It doesn't happen overnight, but as I alluded, in 2017 and in 2018, we saw a number of investigations, you know 17, 18 investigations that were launched and so, I think we continue to track and monitor," Larkin said.
Larkin said he "can't speak to other jurisdictions or what's happening across the province," when he was asked about why Waterloo region is seeing the highest numbers.
"Our message is very clear: We're very stringent, we have a strong belief in oversight and accountability and transparency," he said.
It may be that in this region, higher numbers may be a sign of a changing culture.
"I think in many different ways, it highlights that victims and survivors have a strong sense of confidence in the process and in the system, as well as in the Special Investigations Unit."
Since 2017, Waterloo Regional Police Service has had a total of 18 sexual assault cases allegedly involving officers that were investigated by the SIU.
Out of that number, six were "terminated" under the reason that incidents fell "outside of SIU jurisdiction and/or there was patently nothing to investigate," according to the SIU.
Cherri Greeno, spokesperson for WRPS, says when an allegation is received, the force's professional standards branch gathers information and notifies the SIU to launch an independent investigation. She said an internal investigation would also be conducted by the WRPS.
So far, the SIU has laid charges for three of the cases investigated since 2017. Officers charged include Const. Caleb Roy, Const. Eric Schnarr and Const. Jeffrey Hall.
The charges against Roy and Schnarr are still moving through the court system.
In August 2018, charges against Hall were dropped because the Crown said they had considered all evidence and there "was no prospect of conviction."
All three officers were suspended with pay. Each makes more than $100,000 annually.
Three out of the 18 sexual assault investigations launched by the SIU since 2017 are still ongoing.
'One of the most underreported crimes'
Stacey Hannem, chair of Wilfrid Laurier University's criminology program, specializes in looking at how crime and policing affect marginalized populations.
"We know that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes there is, and that would hold true if the perpetrator is an officer as well," she said.
"It's actually perhaps a good thing if we're seeing a higher number of these cases being investigated," she said. "What it may indicate is that women, in particular in Waterloo region, feel more comfortable or have been supported to come forward and make these sorts of complaints against officers."
She said the complaints represent a small number of interactions that police have with the public on a daily basis, but that sexual assault is a "crime of power" and that it makes sense that "we would possibly see these sorts of complaints arising in interaction with police."
Hannem said allegations of sexual assault against police emerged as an issue through the federal inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
"We hear women involved in sex work who talk about having been bribed or coerced into having sex with officers in order to avoid charges, so it's not an unheard of phenomenon," Hannem said.
"It's very detrimental to the public sense of confidence in police when we hear about police officers being charged with an offence."
Hannem said when people are given power, it comes with a responsibility to uphold the power "in a way that gives integrity to the office."