Sudbury police, OPP to review sexual assault complaints deemed 'unfounded'

Police forces in Sudbury and across northern Ontario are reviewing sexual assault cases after an investigation by the Globe and Mail.

1/3 of sexual assault complaints in northeastern Ontario labeled 'unfounded' by police

An investigation by the Globe and Mail has found that one in five sexual assault complaints are dismissed by police as "unfounded." In Greater Sudbury, the rate is 33 per cent over the last five years. (Shutterstock)

Police forces in Sudbury and across northern Ontario are reviewing sexual assault cases after an investigation by the Globe and Mail.

It revealed, through two years of interviews and hundreds of freedom of information requests, that one in five complaints are labelled as unfounded by Canadian police forces and the rate is closer to one in three in northern Ontario.

The numbers show that between 2010 and 2014, 314 of the 939 sexual assault complaints called into Sudbury police were deemed "unfounded," representing 33 per cent.

Greater Sudbury police say a "comprehensive review" is now being done into sexual assault investigations, including an "in-depth analysis of the factors contributing to cases that are deemed unfounded."

Because of that review, Sudbury police are not commenting directly on the Globe's findings.

But Detective Sergeant Jordan Buchanan says in their department, "unfounded" means investigators have concluded that the alleged assault never happened.

When asked how he feels about the Globe's headline question, 'Will police believe you?' or the activist catchphrase, 'We believe victims', Buchanan suggests it misses the point.

"There may be a time when a victim gives a statement that the officer doesn't believe. Doesn't close the investigation though," he says.

'Are you sure you didn't consent?'

Lynzy Boeswald-Lalande, who leads talks and training sessions on sexual assault in Sudbury, says the number of cases labeled unfounded is more disturbing, considering that only 10 per cent of sexual assaults are reported in the first place.

She says she often hears from women whose complaint did not lead to charges.

"It's often 'we can't prove it.' It's usually that term that they use. Or, it's a he said she said. Or, 'are you sure you didn't consent?'" she says.

For the North Bay police, The Globe and Mail found that 44 per cent of sexual assault complaints were deemed unfounded between 2010 and 2014. It was 29 per cent for Sault Ste. Marie and 30 per cent in Timmins.

The northern detachments of the Ontario Provincial Police were mostly in the one-third range, with 30 per cent in Kirkland Lake and 35 per cent in Temiskaming, for example.

Sergeant Peter Leon says the OPP is now doing a detachment-by-detachment review of these cases.

"The OPP takes any allegation of sexual assault and violence seriously, but again we recognize that these occurrences are complex in nature to investigate," Leon says.