Manitoba

Sexual assault allegations against 2 police officers kept from public

Two Winnipeg police officers have been accused of sexual assault in 2019, but neither case was brought to the attention of the public. 

In 1 instance, police watchdog was not notified about allegation

The allegations against the two officers were reported to police in February and May of this year. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Two Winnipeg police officers have been accused of sexual assault in 2019, but neither case was brought to the attention of the public. 

In one case, the police watchdog agency, the Independent Investigation Unit, was not notified. In the other case, the IIU was notified, but did not launch its own investigation, instead taking a "monitor role" while the Winnipeg Police Service's internal Professional Standards Unit took the lead on the investigation.

The accusations were revealed in internal documents released through a freedom of information request filed by the Winnipeg Free Press and obtained by CBC News. 

On Feb. 26, a police communication centre received a call from someone "making a complaint that a WPS officer had sexually assaulted [name redacted] in the past," according to an email from a duty officer who began making inquiries about the complaint.

The document indicates that the Professional Standards Unit would contact people about the complaint, but it's unclear how far that investigation went or what action was taken.

A spokesperson for the IIU confirmed that it had not received notification about the sexual assault allegation.

"In some instances, an initial investigation by the police agency is necessary to determine if there is any foundation to the complaint. With no foundation or evidence, there is nothing to report," the spokesperson said in an email.

"If there is evidence to support the allegation, we expect the police to notify IIU as required by the Police Services Act."

The act states the chief of police must notify the IIU "when a police service receives a formal complaint that a police officer … has engaged in conduct that would constitute a contravention of a prescribed provision of the Criminal Code," or other provincial or federal legislation.

If they're keeping back that kind of information from the IIU, again, they're contravening, they're obstructing the law.- lawyer Harvey Pollock

However, the IIU spokesperson said the agency considers a "formal complaint" to be "one that has factual support and at least some evidence."

Officer on leave with pay

The second sexual assault allegation involving a Winnipeg police officer was reported on May 15. The following day, an inspector with the Professional Standards Unit wrote a memo to Chief Danny Smyth, informing him that he was notified about a sexual assault committed by an officer, and that may result in a criminal charge of sexual assault. 

The memo also states that the accused officer had been suspended with pay, effective May 16.

An internal notification to the IIU indicates that the officer was off duty at the time of the alleged offence, and that the alleged victim was not injured. It also indicates that at least one other officer may have witnessed the incident and a video statement was obtained.

Details of the incident and the names of the people involved were redacted in the documents. 

The spokesperson for the IIU said the agency doesn't issue public news releases when it takes on a monitor role in an investigation. The decision to take on a monitor role rests with the civilian director of the IIU, according to the Police Services Act. 

Duty to report

The WPS did not directly answer questions from CBC News regarding either of the allegations against the officers.

"When notified of incidents that meet the requirements of the Police Services Act, the WPS does notify the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba," a police spokesperson said in an email statement.

The lack of transparency around internal investigations of police officers reflects a wider culture of silence, commonly known as the "blue code," said lawyer Harvey Pollock.

Pollock represented the family of slain Indigenous leader J.J. Harper, who was shot and killed by a Winnipeg police officer in 1988. 

"There is a duty to report on anything that has contravened the Criminal Code or other ethical or moral issues," he said. 

In the case where the IIU was not notified of the allegations against the police officer, Pollock questioned whether officers withheld information that should have been relayed to the police chief. 

"The IIU has a mandate to investigate these matters. And so if they're keeping back that kind of information from the IIU, again, they're contravening, they're obstructing the law," said Pollock.

About the Author

Cameron MacLean

Web Writer

Cameron MacLean is a journalist living in Winnipeg, Man. where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience covering news in the city and across the province, working in print, radio, television and online.