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B.C. police force apologizes for botched handling of sexual assault complaint

Saanich mayor and police chief issue public apology over how they handled 2016 case
Saanich Police Chief Scott Green and Mayor Fred Haynes issued a statement in response to a Black Press Media article, apologizing for the inadequate treatment a sexual assault survivor received in 2016. (Black Press Media file photo)

The Saanich Police Board has apologized for the department’s treatment of a sexual assault survivor’s report after she shared their missteps and her degrading experience with officers in a Black Press Media article last month.

The July 28 article, Police missteps leave Greater Victoria sexual assault survivor without justice, details how officers misrecorded part of a 2016 interview with the survivor – identified as Chelsea – and took steps that made incriminating aspects of the accused’s interview inadmissible in court.

Officers ultimately chose not to recommend charges against the accused and incorrectly classified Chelsea’s report as “unfounded,” a label exposed by a 20-month Globe and Mail investigation as proof of police bias and mishandling of sexual assault reports in Canada.

Chelsea also said the officers investigating her file made multiple degrading comments about her experience.

When Chelsea returned to the police in 2020 to complain about their handling of her report, the officer she spoke with acknowledged their mistakes and agreed she was in fact a survivor of sexual assault. Her file was changed to “founded, but not charged.”

A statement last week is the first time the police board and department have formally acknowledged mistakes, though. Signed by Chief Const. Scott Green and Mayor Fred Haynes, the statement thanks Chelsea for having the courage to speak up and advocate for change.

“We have heard the concerns of the survivor, affirm that her experience was real, and acknowledge that our investigation of her case should have been better,” the statement reads. “We sincerely regret that the survivor did not receive the quality of service that the Saanich Police is known for and is committed to providing to all members of the community we serve, and we sincerely apologize to her.”

The statement goes on to detail changes the department has made since 2016, including introducing mandatory trauma-informed practice training for all officers and mandatory internal audits of all sexual assault investigations. The department requested a review of its sexual assault policies by the Vancouver Police Department in 2020, after a 2019 complainant said a Saanich police officer asked her whether she had stayed in a park after being sexually assaulted to avoid a “walk of shame” and questioned her about alcohol consumption.

The statement concludes by emphasizing that change in the criminal justice system is necessary and that the department aims to be a place where survivors can be comfortable reporting their experience.

“Survivors must have confidence in going to the police knowing that we will respect their dignity and have their best interests at heart. This is what we strive for. This is where we want to be.”

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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media after starting as a community reporter in Greater Victoria.
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