Montreal

The sexual assault charges against Quebec police officers weren't publicized. Women's groups wonder why

When two police officers were recently charged with sexual assault, Quebec’s police oversight body didn’t take any steps to inform the public. Women’s groups say that is a sign of a troubling double standard.

Police oversight body criticized for promoting a double standard when it comes to how suspects are treated

Viviane Michel, president of Quebec Native Women, criticized the BEI for failing to announce when police officers are charged with criminal offenses. (Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

When two police officers were recently charged with sexual assault, Quebec's police oversight body didn't take any steps to inform the public. 

Women's groups in the province say that is a sign of a troubling double standard when it comes to how the justice system treats police officers accused of breaking the law. 

Most police forces in Quebec alert media when they make an arrest, frequently releasing the name and age of the suspects, as well as a list of the crimes they're alleged to have committed.

That didn't happen when Kativik Regional Police Force Const. Timothy Sangoya and Listuguj Police Department Const. Roger Barnaby were charged following investigations by the oversight body, the Bureau of Independent Investigations (BEI).

News of the charges only surfaced when the Journal de Montreal filed an access-to-information request with the Crown prosecutor's office. 

The BEI is the only authority in Quebec allowed to investigate allegations that a police officer might have committed a crime of a sexual nature.

The Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes said it doesn't publicly announce when charges have been laid because of the 'nature' of the alleged crimes. (Stéphane Beaudoin/CBC)

Viviane Michel, president of the Quebec Native Women, an advocacy group in Kahnawake, said BEI procedures should be no different from any other police force.

"For the sake of transparency, I think they should have the same approach," Michel said.

She said there is already a difficult relationship between police and First Nations women who are victims of sexual assault.

She pointed out that when several women from the Val-D'Or area came forward in 2015 and 2016 to allege they were assaulted by provincial police officers, none of the officers were charged.  

Because of that history, Michel said, the BEI should make a "show of good faith" by letting people know when police officers are charged.

'Two sets of rules'

A spokesperson for an association of 27 sexual-assault support centres (CALACS) said the BEI's approach made it seem "like there are two sets of rules." 

Stéphanie Tremblay said it's not necessary to publish the names of suspects in every case of sexual misconduct by police. 

Every victim is different, Tremblay said, and some will want their attacker's name published so that they can "suffer consequences."

Const. Timothy Sangoya, right, was the first police officer to be charged following an investigation by the BEI, which was created in 2016. (Quebec Public Security Ministry)

Others will want to keep their anonymity as much as possible, especially those who live in small towns and villages.

In an ideal world, Tremblay said, it would be up to the alleged victim to decide whether the suspect's name is published or not.

BEI director Madeleine Giauque refused CBC's request for an interview. 

But in an email, BEI spokesperson Esther Tremblay said the oversight body doesn't publicly announce when charges have been laid because of the "nature" of the alleged crimes, as well as to avoid interfering in the judicial process.

BEI only handles small number of criminal complaints against police

Since it started operating in 2016, the BEI has received 77 complaints from people who say a police officer has committed a criminal infraction.

While the BEI can investigate all types of crimes, statistics indicate the oversight body is handling only a small portion of the total number of allegations made against police.

According to Quebec government statistics, an average of 255 criminal allegations were made annually against police officers between 2010 and 2018.

Over that same time period, an average of 41 charges were laid each year. In these cases, the investigations were carried about other police forces.

The two sexual assault arrests earlier this year represent the only times, to date, a BEI investigation has led to criminal charges.

The BEI currently has 33 open investigations. In addition, the results of two investigations are being analyzed by Crown prosecutors, who will decide whether to press charges.

About the Author

Catou MacKinnon started working for CBC in New Brunswick as a reporter and then as the Maritime Noon correspondent. Since 2004, she's been reporting on stories from all over the province of Quebec.