Yukon women's advocates to review outcomes in sexual assault cases

Advocates will work with police, prosecutors and judges in a bid to boost confidence in the legal system.

Advocates will work with police, prosecutors and judges in bid to boost confidence in legal system

Aja Mason, the co-ordinator of the case review project for the Yukon Status of Women Council, hopes the project gives sexual assault victims the confidence to come forward. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Women's advocacy groups in Yukon will begin reviewing sexual assault files with police and other justice officials.

"Every year, starting in 2019, we'll be looking at the cases from the previous year that have reached either the level of the RCMP, or the Crown or actually have [reached] a judge's decision," said Aja Mason, the project co-ordinator for the Yukon Status of Women Council.

The advocates would review files with police where investigators have decided not to lay charges, with prosecutors where charges have been dropped, and with judges where trials have resulted in acquittals.

The Yukon project is based on a program developed in Philadelphia in 2000. The federal government is contributing $374,000 to cover the Status of Women Council's costs for three years.

Issues uncovered by a review there included incomplete paperwork about evidence, missing records of rape kit results, reports that indicate victim-blaming, and witnesses who may have been identified but not questioned.

Mason said the project will ideally give victims confidence that they will be heard by the legal system, and that it is safe for them to pursue justice.

"The RCMP, the Crown and the judiciary have all been incredibly open and welcoming to this review process. They have all expressed a really positive sentiment around it," said Mason.

Details to be worked out

RCMP Staff Sgt. Jane Boissonneault believes that an external set of eyes will look at the files to make sure policies are adhered to and investigators meet expectations.

"And we'd certainly be interested in trying to find ways to address that, if there's anything that we can work on to make it easier, more open for victims to come forward," Boissonneault said.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Jane Boissonneault says there are still details to be worked out before the case reviews can begin. (CBC)

There are still details to work out before the reviews can begin, however, she said. They include training and the mechanics of redacting material that could identify people named in the files, said Boissonneault.

Mason said cases from five Yukon communities will be checked.

Police forces across Canada faced increased scrutiny after a Globe and Mail investigation in 2017 revealed investigators deemed a surprisingly high number of sexual assault complaints to be unfounded, implying there was no assault.

In the aftermath of the revelations, Yukon RCMP and other police forces said officers were classifying cases as unfounded when they should have been classified as unsubstantiated, which could indicate they couldn't find enough evidence to lay charges.