RCMP reports highlight problems with cases of intimate partner violence
Internal reviews found victims not directed to support services, potential injuries undocumented
Patricia Michaud isn't surprised internal RCMP reviews repeatedly found problems with intimate partner violence investigations over the past decade in New Brunswick.
Through her role as executive director of the Miramichi Emergency Centre for Women she's encountered officers who go above and beyond. But that's often not the case.
"I'd say the majority of experiences are not — I won't say not good, but they're problematic," Michaud said.
The centre offers shelter and outreach services to women in Miramichi and the surrounding rural areas, so she sees both city police and RCMP.
She's aware of women who weren't directed to support services and of cases that weren't pursued when they could have been because the victim didn't want their partner charged, she said.
That aligns with some of the issues that RCMP officers found while evaluating the work of their peers. CBC News obtained copies of management reviews carried out by RCMP in New Brunswick over the past decade.
One review found issues such as failure to document whether a person who reported being hit in the face was injured. Another found officers not complying with the force's own domestic violence investigation policy.
Reviews examine case files
The reviews involve RCMP officers going to other detachments, evaluating how they function and examining a sample of criminal investigation files.
Michaud said the issues uncovered could put lives at risk.
New Brunswick has one of the country's highest rates of murder-suicides linked to intimate partner violence. Most have occurred in small towns or rural areas.
"All of us need to do better in the domestic violence sector — policing, the justice system, all our systems," Michaud said. "We need to really pay attention to this and do better."
CBC News requested an interview in June and July with Assistant Commissioner Larry Tremblay, the commanding officer of New Brunswick RCMP. Another interview was requested Tuesday. No interview was provided.
Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh issued a written statement that says there have been "significant organizational changes" since many of the reviews were done.
"Many of the issues raised in these documents were addressed through those changes, or specific action plans," Rogers-Marsh said without elaborating.
Rogers-Marsh said in an email Tuesday that all frontline RCMP officers undergo training on how to deal with intimate partner violence and that the force takes the calls very seriously.
A common theme in several reports is whether police are referring victims of violence to support services.
A 2012 Woodstock review found that in only eight per cent of the 95 cases examined were victims noted as being referred as required. A 2010 review in the Campbellton area found 18 of 29 files had "no evidence that victim services were offered to the victims."
Michaud said victims must be informed of services available if they're at risk.
"Women in those situations need assistance and they need to know they're not alone and they need to know that there is help," Michaud said.
Debrah Westerburg, a co-ordinator with the New Brunswick South Central Transition House and Second Stage Coalition, pointed out that the way the reviews work can create ambiguity about whether the victims were referred to support service.
During an investigation, officers are expected to document their actions in case files, allowing reviewers to gauge the quality of the police work and whether it follows procedures.
Westerburg said if it's not documented, it wouldn't be clear to other officers reviewing the file whether it happened.
The 2012 Woodstock review notes that eight per cent of the cases that were examined record victims being provided immediate protection to ensure further assault didn't occur.
The same review shows a similarly low percentage of cases documenting that an officer researched and noted previous incidents of violence. The report mentions one case that showed the research was done but adds "no action/follow-through indicated."
A 2017 review carried out of the RCMP's Woodstock detachment, which polices the rural area outside the town, didn't find as many issues.
The 2010 Campbellton report found fewer than half the victims had been informed of a suspect's release or updated on the status of the investigation. The review also found that in nine of the 29 cases, children were exposed to the violence. The review says that police in only one of those cases contacted family services.
Reports contained qualitative judgement from investigators as opposed to conclusions based on established facts. - 2010 RCMP management review
That report also said case files lacked necessary information for supervisors looking at the file to take action. It pointed to a case where a victim reported being hit in the face.
"The file offered no details of the attending member's observations of injury to the victim's face, if any," the report states.
"Similarly, there was no documentation to show that the investigator considered taking pictures of the injury or if there was even something to take a picture of. Reports contained qualitative judgment from investigators as opposed to conclusions based on established facts."
That review also found one case that "was clearly a domestic violence matter but was not treated as such."
A 2014 review from Campbellton doesn't mention similar issues.
Policy not followed
While the reports are now years old, issues with domestic violence investigations have been recorded more recently elsewhere.
A 2017 review of the Saint-Quentin detachment, one of the most recent reports released, found domestic violence cases were completed in a timely manner but "appeared to be investigated with outdated policies."
The report lists cases with deficiencies, but the details have been redacted in the copy released to CBC.
The report notes that in "numerous files," investigations appear to have stopped when the victim said they didn't want to proceed. It adds that RCMP policy is clear that officers pursue all avenues of investigation and, if merited, refer the file to the Crown.
Westerburg said when officers show up at a scene and there's evidence of an assault, the officer should proceed with an investigation.
"The onus is no longer on the victim," Westerburg said.
The 2010 Campbellton report did point to one domestic violence case an officer pursued, despite the victim's decision not to provide a statement.
"The member gathered evidence, made good notes, seized the 911 tape and proceeded with charges and obtained a conviction," the report states. "This file could be used as a model or training example for these high risk files."
Westerburg views the reports as a good way for the force to analyze how it handles cases. However, she wants to know whether RCMP acted on the problems the reviews found so they're not repeated.