Advocate says alleged sexual assault victim couldn't file complaint because of closed Saskatoon police station
SPS says headquarters closed because of COVID-19 'may have created barriers to reporting'
A University of Saskatchewan law professor says the Saskatoon Police Service was wrong to close its doors to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lucinda Vandervort said the closure has resulted in at least one sexual assault victim being turned away. She said she wonders how many other crimes have gone unreported.
Vandervort said it's shameful that liquor stores and other businesses have remained open to the public while the police station has not.
"What are [victims] supposed to do?" said Vandervort, who specializes in gender violence and sexual assault law. "You know, you could try to set up camp on the steps of the police station and hope that an officer would engage with you, I suppose. But realistically, you tell me. What are you supposed to do?"
Last week, an alleged sexual assault victim went to file a complaint, according to an advocate who said they drove the victim. The advocate spoke to CBC News confidentially to protect the identity of victims and those connected to them.
The advocate said the police station doors were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They tried to call police from outside, but were told the public was not allowed inside, the advocate said.
Police asked for the woman's cell phone and address to schedule a visit in 24 to 48 hours, the advocate said. They said they told police the victim had no phone or computer and lives with the alleged assailant.
The advocate, who has escorted other assault victims to the station to make statements before the closure, asked if an officer could meet them in the parking lot. That suggestion was rejected, they said.
The advocate said they asked if there were any other options and says she was told there were none. They left, with the alleged victim crying and asking to be driven home. She did not file her complaint, the advocate said.
Vandervort said it takes a lot of courage for sexual assault victims to come forward. Any barriers can be extremely intimidating and cause them to retreat. That appears to be what happened in this case, she said.
"It looks to me like there's a whole group of people who are potentially just out of luck. It's as if the police were pretending they didn't exist, which is ridiculous," Vandervort said.
Vandervort sent a letter of complaint about the incident and the station closure to police. She said Chief Troy Cooper promised this week to look into the matter.
The Saskatoon Police Service issued an emailed statement Thursday afternoon. It said police admit the pandemic and resulting station closure "may have created barriers to reporting, and that the alternative reporting options that are available perhaps do not work for everyone."
It said the coronavirus pandemic "is not a normal situation and these are short-term measures that have only been taken during the declared state of emergency."
Police said they hope to open the station to the public next week.