Nova Scotia

Halifax sexual assault numbers 'disturbing,' says Diana Whalen

Nova Scotia's justice minister says she's disturbed by police statistics that show only 22 per cent of sexual assault cases reported in Halifax over the last five years resulted in charges being laid.

Less than a quarter of sexual assaults reported to Halifax police in last 5 years resulted in charges

Justice Minister Diana Whalen says a special court that would hear sexual assault cases is something that could be looked at. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's justice minister says she's disturbed by police statistics that show only 22 per cent of sexual assault cases reported in Halifax over the last five years resulted in charges being laid.

From Jan. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2015, a total of 2,186 sexual assault complaints were made to Halifax-area police, which includes both regional police and the RCMP.

Those complaints included aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon.

Of those files opened, only 488 resulted in charges laid.

Another 1,164 cases — which accounts for 53 per cent — were closed with no further action taken. In 136 cases, the accused was cleared, while police found the complaint to be unfounded in 290 cases.

5% of cases still open

Five per cent of the cases, or 108, are still open.

Whalen says the low number of charges laid concerns her.

"I have read some numbers that are pretty disturbing and what you are presenting today are disturbing numbers," she said, adding she would like to compare them to figures the province has.

Whalen says her department is currently looking at how Nova Scotia compares to other provinces in dealing with sexual assault cases. She says she wants Nova Scotians to feel safe, comfortable and supported when coming forward to report a sexual assault.

Sexual assault court?

Halifax police spokeswoman Theresa Rath says officers are trained with a victim-centred approach, where officers will drop the case if the person making the allegations requests the investigation be abandoned.

Rath also says that another reason cases are dropped is because there isn't sufficient evidence to proceed.

Whalen says her department could also consider a sexual assault court for the province.

"We have a number of speciality courts, domestic violence and mental health and drug addiction courts, so it is something that could be looked at," she said.

But she pointed out education is more important, by teaching people how to identify when a crime has been committed, how to report it and what to expect from the system so there is confidence when coming forward.

Sexual assault strategy

Whalen also referred to the $6 million sexual assault strategy being rolled out by the province.

Ontario has launched a $2.8-million pilot program granting survivors of sexual violence access to free legal advice.

Those living in Toronto, Ottawa and Thunder Bay who allege they have been sexually assaulted and are 16 or older can apply for up to four hours of independent legal counsel. The project was announced in March as part of other provincial initiatives to combat sexual violence.

Whalen said she wants to see how that project pans out before committing to a similar program in Nova Scotia.

'Flavour of the day'

"Before we just jump into the flavour of the day, I think we do have to look and see whether it's going to work," she said.

Whalen says it may be more important to improve victims' services.

With files from Blair Rhodes and The Canadian Press

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