RCMP reopen, then close, 1 of 49 unfounded sexual assault cases in N.W.T.
National review identified hundreds of cases from 2016 needing further investigation
Northwest Territories RCMP say they reopened — and subsequently closed — one unfounded sexual assault case from 2016, following a national review that identified hundreds of unfounded cases requiring further investigation.
Unfounded is a classification used by RCMP when an investigation determines no violation of the law took place or was attempted.
After a Globe and Mail report last February found police in Canada dismiss one in five sexual assault cases as baseless, the RCMP announced it would review all sexual assault cases in 2016 deemed unfounded.
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"This file was opened for mainly administrative purposes, to ensure the file was in correct order, etc.," N.W.T. RCMP spokesperson Marie York-Condon stated in an email to CBC, referring to the single 2016 file reopened in the territory.
"The file has been confirmed unfounded and is now concluded."
49 N.W.T. cases marked unfounded in 2016
Police classified 49 sexual assault cases as unfounded in the N.W.T. in 2016, according to RCMP. They say there were a total of 246 reports of sexual assault or interference in the territory that year.
The RCMP's report on its national review unfounded cases in 2016 shows the police force received more than 10,000 reports of sexual assault across Canada that year.
Of the 2,225 sexual assault cases that were classified as unfounded, 284 files were flagged for further investigation.
York-Condon stated N.W.T. RCMP have also reviewed unfounded sexual assault cases from 2010 to 2014, and national RCMP are reviewing unfounded cases from 2017.
"We are unable to comment while the reviews are ongoing," stated York-Condon in her email.
Include member of public in review, says MLA
Yellowknife MLA Julie Green raised the issue of unfounded sexual assault cases in the N.W.T. legislature last year.
She recently told CBC she would like to see a committee that includes a member of the public review unfounded sexual assault cases, to ensure they truly are unfounded.
"I don't doubt that the RCMP are doing a good job," said Green. "But in order to build confidence in the work they're doing reviewing unfounded cases, it would be very useful for them to create this committee with a public member."
Doing so would provide an extra measure of oversight, she said.
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History of disbelieving victims
Bree Denning, executive director of the Yellowknife Women's Society, said she wasn't familiar with all the details of unfounded sexual assaults, but she acknowledged there is a history of women not being believed when they report sexual assaults.
"That is definitely something to keep in mind when we look at how these crimes are investigated and how we can improve going forward," she said.
Providing victims with options other than heading to the emergency room in the aftermath of sexual assault could also improve sexual assault reporting, she said.
"It's a really frightening process to engage in. So if you're left waiting or uncomfortable, the temptation to just go home and ... take a long, hot shower is really, really high," said Denning.
She said she once waited with a woman for eight hours in the emergency room, although she added things have improved since that incident several years ago.
"I think that does affect reporting," said Denning. "They want to be where they feel safe when something traumatic happens to them."