RCMP G Division Criminal Operations summary - Sexual Assault Investigations Review Committee's feedback, recommendations and RCMP actions
In December 2017, the RCMP released The Way Forward – The RCMP's sexual assault review and victim support action plan, which provided the framework for Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) divisions to establish external review committees.
Establishing external sexual assault review committees has also become an important accountability mechanism that has proved successful and beneficial to many police agencies in North America. The RCMP in the Northwest Territories (NT) made it a priority to create a Sexual Assault Investigations Review Committee (SAIRC) model that reflects the environment of the Territory.
The NT SAIRC was created to provided investigative oversight to randomly selected NT sexual assault cases classified as "not cleared by charge", including files classified as "unfounded" to ensure investigations are thorough, impartial, and properly classified as well as to identify any systemic gaps or barriers.
The NT SAIRC is comprised of partners from the Government of Northwest Territories Department of Justice, along with the RCMP and other territorial stakeholders representing victim services organizations and victim/community advocates.
The NT RCMP is 1 of 6 RCMP Divisions with an active external review committee.
Committees were held on December 10 and 11, 2019 and June 16 and 17, 2020. The randomly selected investigations were from seven communities, varying in size from small to large. The status for these files include the clearance codes of: Insufficient Evidence to Proceed, Unfounded and Victim/Complainant Declines to Proceed. The committee completed one standardized checklist after reviewing each case. The checklist assisted the committee in navigating police investigations and will assist the NT RCMP in identifying trends, gaps and barriers in police investigations.
Included in the checklists are feedback for; the victims, subject of complaints, witnesses, evidence collection, reports, case specific findings/recommendations and the RCMP's follow-up actions.
The following information gives an overall summary of the feedback and recommendations provided by the committee; it also includes the RCMP's follow-up actions.
Overall the committee found NT RCMP investigations thorough, timely and conducted in a trauma-informed manner. They generally found that investigators were victim centred, taking the needs and wishes of those involved into account. They noted that investigators took victims seriously and treated them with respect.
The committee provided feedback on all cases reviewed and gave recommendations on two investigations which included steps for the RCMP to consider. The NT RCMP concurred with these recommendations and they were forwarded to investigators for follow up.
The committee identified police reports that contained the police officer's personal opinion when it was not relevant to the investigation. The committee advised that personal opinions can show a lack of understanding of rape myths and consent law. Other findings include: lack of complete documentation and context, including if witnesses and suspects were spoken to. The committee recommended that investigators explain the process of investigations more thoroughly to victims. The victims should also be given the opportunity to provide statements to an officer in the gender of their choice.
The committee recommended that some investigators require additional training on consent, rape myths and levels of intoxication. When working with youth, the committee advised that the parents/guardians, and Social Services should be consulted. Prior to interviewing youth victims, officers should consult with other RCMP support units that have expertise in conducting child interviews to ensure best practices are followed. The importance of supervisor guidance was also highlighted.
Detachment supervisors for each of the files reviewed were advised of the committee's findings with the goal of improving investigations. The more general themes of the committee's recommendations were shared with all NT RCMP employees in correspondence from the Criminal Operations Officer. Included in the message was the importance of completing the RCMP's consent law training, writing professional police reports, being victim centred, and practicing trauma-informed principles.
The NT RCMP is committed to ensuring investigative excellence and support for victims of sexual violence and would like to thank their partners for their commitment to SAIRC.
The NWT of Women, one of the many community partners involved, stated that the council "
supports and participates in SAIRC as we want to help improve the RCMP response for people who have experienced sexual violence. In doing so, our goal is to reduce the potential for re-traumatization during the investigation process, to inform the creation of safer, more supportive, and empowering environments for these people, and to increase the likelihood that these people will seek further help as part of their healing journey."
We are grateful for the participation of our stakeholders. It is deeply appreciated that a number of advocates and partners supported the reviews. We look forward to continually learning and hearing from them, based on their extensive experience as front line providers supporting survivors of sexual violence" states Cpl. Jesse Aubin, NT RCMP Family Violence Coordinator.
External sexual assault review committees help improve the process by which police address sexual violence investigations. It is a collaborative response between the police and the community that has proven beneficial in reducing victim-blaming biases that prevent survivors from reporting sexual violence.
The NT SAIRC's next review will be held in April 2021 with plans to host another review in the fall.
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