Advocate encourages adoption of 'Philadelphia Model' to address sexual violence

Front line workers and advocates discussed a form of police oversight regarding sexual violence investigations at a domestic violence conference in Regina on Tuesday.

Crisis workers could review police investigations regarding sexual, domestic violence under model

Sunny Marriner is executive director of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre and an advocate for police agencies adopting the Philadelphia model — a form of police oversight done by local crisis workers. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

A program that allows experts outside of law enforcement conduct reviews of police investigations into sexual violence cases was up for discussion Tuesday in Regina.

The Philadelphia Case Review Model was one of the topics at the two-day domestic violence conference titled "Applying Evidence to Prevent Violence." 

The conference was hosted by the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS) in Regina. 

"The goal of [The Philadelphia model] is to try and ensure there's one more link in the investigative chain and that there's a different lens and a different set of eyes on those violence against women cases," said Sunny Marriner, who is the executive director of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre.

She has long advocated for Canadian jurisdictions to adopt the model. 

She helped kick off pilot projects in Ontario — and now Calgary. She also spoke at the conference in Regina Tuesday. 

The review process is supposed to ensure police investigations are thorough and properly classified, Marriner said. She added it can lead to stronger evidence-based files which can help cases move forward in the justice system.

Furthermore, she said reviews identify systematic gaps or barriers.

Frontline workers involved with police cases is important, she said.

"They can bring a real fresh vision and a fresh set of eyes to case work in a way that hasn't happened before," she said.

The model was developed to target cases of sexual assault, but Marriner said the model is strong regardless of the subject matter and many jurisdictions were using it to review cases of domestic violence as well. 

The model at a local level

On Tuesday, Regina Police Chief Evan Bray said he's aware the Philadelphia Model is being proposed across Canada. Bray said he is open to considering the model here in Regina and will work with community partners to see how it might work. 

"I think any time we can do something that enhances the trust and faith that our community has in us to do an investigation the better we are," Bray said.

Implementing the program locally could be one part of the solution to combating Saskatchewan's high rates of violence, said Jo-Anne Dusel, who is executive director of PATHS and one of the 13 experts who prepared Saskatchewan's first domestic death review.
Jo-Anne Dusel said the adoption of the Philadelphia model could be one piece of the puzzle when it comes to dropping rates of domestic and sexual violence. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

"Certainly by having frontline advocates reviewing the police cases we can start to identify particular trends or themes," she said.

It has to go beyond talk. It's time to take action.- Jo-Anne Dusel 
For example, there could be several police investigations that involve the same person but are coded separately such as mischief, vandalism or trespassing.

Separately those appear to be minor incidents, but "together they show there's a pattern of harassment or stalking occuring against an individual," she said.

Dusel said in addition to considering the Philadelphia model, the province should act on recommendations issued in the domestic homicide report.

"It has to go beyond talk. It's time to take action," she said, adding it must start with public awareness for youth and onward. 

She said people should learn about healthy relationships and concerning behaviours such as someone trying to control their partner and deciding things like where they can work or what they can wear.

These are serious red flags, Dusel said.

"I don't think people understand that, and if they do understand that they still don't know how to have that awkward conversation with someone." 

Knowing how to ask "what's going on, I want to offer help" can make all the difference, she said.