New Brunswick

Sexual Assault Centre joins police force in review of unfounded sexual assault cases

The Sexual Assault Centre, along with Fredericton Police Force, will review 37 sexual assault cases between 2010 and 2014 that police deemed unfounded.

Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre is partnering with police on 2 new projects

Police Chief Leanne Fitch says the pilot project could lead to an annual audit of how the department responds to sexual assault complaints. (CBC)

The Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre is formally teaming up with the Fredericton Police Force to review 37 sexual assaults deemed unfounded by the force.

A pilot project called the Sexual Assault Advocate Review was announced at Monday's council meeting.

Police Chief Leanne Fitch said last June that she wanted to bring in the local centre to review and apply a fresh set of eyes to the 37 cases.

"It's not necessarily about changing the outcomes of those past cases, but it's looking at how we can improve things in the future," Jennifer Richard, director of community development with the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre, said Tuesday.

The project will be looking for things such as gender bias and sexual assault myths that may have influenced the investigation.

"It's going to help us come up with recommendations and changes we'd like to see for the future of policing," Richard said in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton.

The 37 cases were identified during a 20-month investigation more than a year ago by the Globe and Mail into sexual assault cases across Canada. 

The newspaper found New Brunswick had an "unfounded" rate of 32 per cent, compared with the national average of 19.39 per cent.

Sixteen per cent of the 325 cases investigated by Fredericton police between 2010 and 2014 were deemed unfounded, according to the Globe and Mail study.

Jennifer Richard, director of community development at the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre, believes changes are needed in the way police investigate sexual violence. (CBC)

The percentage of unfounded cases dropped to 10.87 after an internal review from the Fredericton Police Force.

But Fitch said Monday that there's always room for improvement and "opportunities to adopt best practices going forward."

The review of the 37 unfounded cases should take about three months.

"I really wanted the opportunity to have external eyes on these files with a sampling of other files just to come back and say, 'OK, did we get it right when we did our audit?'" Fitch said.

"What is your take on it? Do you have anything further to help us move forward with our sexual assault investigations."

Fitch said she hopes the Sexual Assault Advocate Review turns into an annual audit.

Improving access to justice

The centre, alongside the police force, will also do research aimed at improving women's access to justice and will look at police policies and procedures related to sexual assaults.

Richard said the three-year project will look at ways to improve access to justice and how police deal with sexual assault complaints, what prevents people from reporting sexual assault and how to make them feel more comfortable reporting.

It's really about improving the outcome so that when people leave that station after giving a statement, they feel like they were listened to, they feel like they were believed.- Jennifer Richard, Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre

Richard said this is a Canada-wide issue and there's always room for improvement. 

The Sexual Assault Centre's work will develop into an action plan to improve people's experiences when they report a sexual assault.

When the changes are completed, they will be communicated to the community, Richard said.

"It's really about improving the outcome so that when people leave that station after giving a statement, they feel like they were listened to, they feel like they were believed," she said.

"They don't feel like they were dismissed or they don't feel like their credibility is in question."