PEI

RCMP to review 165 P.E.I. sexual assault cases where charges weren't laid

RCMP say 165 sexual assault cases on P.E.I. will be reviewed as part of a national effort to re-examine how police investigate these files.

'There are some investigations we could've done a better job on'

"There is no greater intrusion on a person's dignity and privacy than to be sexually assaulted," said Staff-Sgt. Kevin Baillie. (CBC)

RCMP say 165 sexual assault cases on P.E.I. will be reviewed as part of a national effort to examine how police investigate these files.

The P.E.I. files are among 25,000 from across the country between 2015 and 2017 that did not result in RCMP laying a criminal charge.

The review will look at "the entire file, the integrity of the investigation. Were all avenues pursued? Is there any more than can be done?" said Staff-Sgt. Kevin Baillie, with P.E.I. RCMP.

This extensive review comes after the national police agency examined all cases where police concluded complainants' allegations were unfounded, between 2010 and 2016.

The national review team found some cases lacked sufficient investigation, supervision and knowledge by investigators.

There has been criticism here on P.E.I. and across the country that labelling cases "unfounded" meant victims of sexual assault weren't believed by police.

Updated review

Last week the P.E.I. government released its review of cases by all four police agencies here that concluded nearly 40 per cent of cases were ruled unfounded. 

Those numbers included statistics from RCMP on P.E.I. which determined 46 per cent, or 199 of its 428 cases between 2010-16 as unfounded.

However, Baillie says those numbers were preliminary and since then RCMP have completed reviews of more cases and cut the number of unfounded cases in half.

The 165 P.E.I. cases to be reexamined will be handled by the new RCMP national review team. It will look at the unfounded cases and all sexual assault cases between 2015-2017 where a charge was not laid.

"There were investigations we could've done a better job on, there were some investigations we could've been more compassionate to victims and there were a number that we had concluded that were unfounded when that was not the correct conclusion that should have been come to," said Baillie.

"Files that we classify as unfounded in no way does that mean that the person who made the complaint is lying."

Most of these cases involved situations "where there wasn't sufficient evidence to proceed to court or after consulting with the crown it was felt there wasn't a reasonable probability of conviction," said Baillie. The "vast majority" of these files have been re-labelled as "unsolved-unsubstantiated". 

Unclear definitions

Part of the problem, said Baillie, is the subjectivity involved for officers in labelling files.

The review released by the P.E.I. government last week did not look at what definitions the four Island police agencies used.

"Government did not examine the contents of the case files to see if they were labelled based on Statistics Canada definitions.… Part of this discussion will include refining the current methodology for investigating sexual assaults in the province," according to a statement by the department of Justice and Public Safety.

The definition of unfounded used by the RCMP is that a police investigation concluded no violation of the law took place, said Baillie.

"What I'm hoping is that there some clarity given, something that can bring us to some consistency to how we classify these files," said Baillie.

Further work to be done

The publicity over the unfounded sexual assault files has been extensive, said Baillie, but he sees that as a positive thing.

He hopes "police officers across the country do a better job of sexual assault investigations, hopefully in some cases we can be more compassionate and treat victims better and that files are properly and consistently given a status whether unfounded is appropriate or some other status."

"I think the reviews that have been done, the publicity that this issue has been given will only increase the attention these offences get, and will make officers more aware of what they should be doing in a more timely manner and hopefully victims will get better service from the police."

The issue of sexual assault and harassment has taken on international proportions in recent months and Baillie hopes it encourages more people to come forward to lay a complaint if they've been assaulted. 

Repeat offenders 

"Next to murder this is probably the most serious offence that the police generally deal with. There is no greater intrusion on a person's dignity and privacy than to be sexually assaulted," he said.

"Unfortunately individuals who perpetrate such a crime often don't do it just once and often as we've seen in media with some of the more high profile cases when one person comes forward many others do as well. So if we can get that first victim to come forward that may prevent many other people from being victimized."

The P.E.I. government continues to involve the four police agencies in discussions on how sexual assault investigations are handled including training, oversight and investigations.

Baillie said he is giving these files a closer look now and other supervisors are also monitoring these files more closely.

About the Author

Sally Pitt

Producer

Sally Pitt is a producer with CBC and has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years in online, TV, radio and print. She specializes in justice issues and also works with the CBC Atlantic Investigative Unit. You can reach her at sally.pitt@cbc.ca.