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Yellowknife RCMP jail woman after she was sexually assaulted

The Yellowknife RCMP has come under fire from a judge for jailing the victim of a sexual assault instead of taking her to hospital or offering any other support.

'I am unable to imagine circumstances that would justify this type of treatment,' says judge

The Yellowknife RCMP responded to a call about a sexual assault last year by jailing the woman who had been assaulted. (Andrew Pacey/CBC)

The Yellowknife RCMP has come under fire from a judge for jailing the victim of a sexual assault instead of taking her to hospital or offering any other support.

The woman was sexually assaulted in the alley behind the Capitol Theatre on the night of May 28, 2017. The assault was captured by a surveillance camera above the theatre's delivery door.

Though he had left the scene, Wade Kapakatoak was arrested and charged within minutes of police responding to a call about the assault from a theatre employee. Kapakatoak later pleaded guilty to the assault.

But it's how police dealt with the victim that caused the judge to take the rare step of criticizing the RCMP.

The officers who responded to the call found the woman lying on the ground. She was highly intoxicated. The theatre employee was there and told police the woman had been raped.

Victim not treated with dignity: judge

As first reported by Cabin Radio, in a written ruling earlier this month, Judge Garth Malakoe noted that instead of offering the victim support, police arrested her and put her in jail for public intoxication.

"I am unable to imagine circumstances which would justify this type of treatment of a victim of sexual assault," wrote Malakoe. "It appears the victim was not treated with the dignity and compassion that she or any victim of a sexual assault deserves."

The judge noted that police have not had a chance to provide any explanation for why they treated the victim as they did.

It appears the victim was not treated with the dignity and compassion that she or any victim of a sexual assault deserves.- Judge Garth Malakoe

However, he said the way police treated the victim seemed "egregious" and should be examined.

Yellowknife RCMP declined an interview request from CBC News.

In an email, an RCMP spokesperson said police won't do an interview or provide information about the training officers get to deal with sexual assault victims, because Kapakatoak has not been sentenced yet. That's scheduled to happen Oct. 11.

A review is being done on "how we applied our policy and training, the totality of the circumstance (what was known by responding officers, police authorities, medical assessment, etc.)," the RCMP spokesperson said. "We will also be looking at our interactions with the victim during and after and any support services offered."

The victim, who was highly intoxicated and homeless, would not co-operate with police the night of the attack, according to the judge's ruling. She also was not part of the court case. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

Victim reluctant to co-operate with authorities

The victim, who was highly intoxicated and homeless, would not co-operate with police the night of the attack, according to the judge's ruling. She also was not part of the court case.

Kapakatoak pleaded guilty and was convicted based on the surveillance video the prosecutor presented.

"Ultimately, if the victim is avoiding this trial as a result of this treatment, then her treatment by the police has affected the judicial process," wrote Malakoe.

A similar situation unfolded two years ago when a 13-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted in Hay River left court during a break in her testimony, at her attacker's trial, and did not return. The Crown is currently applying to have her attacker, Cody Durocher, declared a dangerous offender.

After the girl initially told an RCMP officer she had been sexually assaulted, she was jailed until the next evening because she was highly intoxicated and violating the terms of her probation. Once released, she was reluctant to tell police the details of the attack.

Adversarial relationship

The Yellowknife Women's Society runs a variety of programs for marginalized people in Yellowknife, including a street outreach van that shuttles intoxicated people on the street to shelters and other safe spaces.

Executive director Bree Denning said she was not surprised to learn that the woman who was sexually assaulted behind the theatre was jailed by police.

"I can see how the situation might have devolved fairly rapidly with women who have been involved with police not trusting them and reacting strongly to them, and police having the same sort of reaction," she said.

Bree Denning, executive director of the Yellowknife Women's Society, says homeless people need an alternative to the hospital or jail cells after being assaulted. (Katie Toth/CBC)

CBC News spoke to people at Yellowknife's day shelter and the women's centre. One elderly, homeless woman said she would never call the police, and instead relies on younger friends for protection if she needs it.

Another person said police are often judgmental when they deal with homeless people, while another said it can take police hours to respond to complaints from the women's centre.

If the options are hospital or cells, that's not really a very valid choice.- Bree Dennning, Yellowknife Women's Society

"People in our programs, when they call for assistance or to report crimes, they're not always taken seriously by [RCMP] dispatch, and we've had that issue on an ongoing basis," said Denning.

The Yellowknife Women's Society has urged authorities to establish places in the community, apart from the RCMP detachment and the hospital, where women can be taken after being sexually assaulted, she said.

"Even a decade ago we were calling for alternatives for women who had been victims of assault rather than the hospital, because the hospital honestly is not always a welcoming place for women who are street-involved either," said Denning.

"If the options are hospital or cells, that's not really a very valid choice for them."

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