Kelowna, B.C., mayor apologizes for response to report on unfounded sexual assaults – The Globe and Mail

Kelowna, B.C., mayor apologizes for response to report on unfounded sexual assaults - The Globe and Mail
Limited progress on RCMP sex assault plan as Kelowna detachment under unprecedented review
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In a statement on Wednesday, Kelowna mayor Colin Basran, seen here, had not acknowledged the impact of the situation on the community or expressed any specific concern about that.

“I support what the Kelowna RCMP has done in response to this new information from Statistics Canada – starting with an internal review and a subsequent request to have the RCMP’s Sexual Assault Review Team at national headquarters review the 2018 and 2019 files.

The mayor of the Okanagan city of Kelowna has apologized for his initial comments responding to the finding that almost 40 per cent of sexual-assault complaints made to the local RCMP are dismissed as unfounded, a rate three times higher than the national average.

Kelowna mayor backtracking on unconditional support for RCMP sex assault investigations

The number of local sex-assault complaints deemed to be unfounded is deeply concerning and I know the local detachment is taking this matter seriously, Colin Basran said in a statement on Friday that struck a sharply different tone from earlier in the week.

Basran said it's the job of the city to ensure matters of concern to the public are addressed, and he has asked city staff to remain in contact with police until the review is complete.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mr. Basran had not acknowledged the impact of the situation on the community or expressed any specific concern about that.

That statement said he was pleased that the RCMPs Sexual Assault Review Team was taking a further look at files deemed unfounded, a coding term that means the investigating officer did not believe a crime had occurred.

The Kelowna detachment has said the B.C. RCMP has been unable to explain the high unfounded numbers and requested the RCMPs national sexual-assault review team to examine the 2018 and 2019 unfounded sexual-assault files.

"The number of local sex assault complaints deemed to be unfounded is deeply concerning, and I know the local detachment is taking this matter seriously."

The team was formed to review RCMP sexual-assault files after the 2017 publication of The Globe and Mails award-winning Unfounded investigative series, which found sexual-assault complaints twice as likely to be dismissed as unfounded as complaints in other assault cases.

I am sorry and offer my sincere apology to anyone offended or hurt by my initial reaction to this news,” Basran said in a statement issued by the City of Kelowna communications team. “The number of local sex assault complaints deemed to be unfounded is deeply concerning and I know the local detachment is taking this matter seriously.

Statistics Canada has reported the rate of sexual assaults deemed unfounded by the RCMP in Kelowna was 37 per cent in 2018. The agency said in July that, nationally, 11 per cent of sexual-assault cases reported to police were classified as unfounded in 2018, down from 14 per cent in 2017.

Its kind of infuriating and it really leads back into the reasons that people dont report as well, Scofield said following the release of the Stats Canada data on Nov. 10. When youre already aware that theres a really good chance no ones going to take you seriously, reliving all of that trauma is much more difficult.

The Kelowna Mounties said that in 2018, they received 82 reports of sexual assault, and deemed 30 cases unfounded after investigations were completed.

A spokesman for Mr. Basran said the mayor was unavailable for an interview on Friday to elaborate on his statement, which says the high numbers were deeply concerning to the city of about 132,000 in the Southern Interior.

While the RCMP operates independently of the City of Kelowna, it is the citys responsibility to ensure matters of concern to our citizens are being addressed,” he said, adding he supports the Mounties actions and will await their conclusions before further comment.

Statistics Canada data reveals the Kelowna RCMP detachment dismissed sexual assault complaints at a rate of nearly 40 per cent, far above the provincial average of less than 15 per cent in 2018.

Michelle Novakowski, executive director of the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society, which advocates for women in the criminal justice system, said she was disappointed with Mr. Basrans first statement because it read like he was not concerned about sexual-assault survivors in the community.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran apologized Friday for comments he made related to the actions of local RCMP and their handling of sex assault complaints in the Okanagan city.

She said he is a caring person with good intentions, who misspoke in his initial comments. She said she has faith that the RCMP mean well despite questions about the unfounded numbers.

Further comment on the issue would wait until the completion of the internal and external review of the files by the RCMP’s Sexual Assault Review Team, he said.

I dont want people to think the RCMP dont care about sexual-assault survivors. Thats not true. I think there are many members that do care, she said.

Basran issued an apology on Friday, saying he was too quick to comment while a review of the Kelowna unfounded sex assault files for 2018 and 2019 is underway.

RCMP spokeswoman Corporal Meghan Foster said its unclear how long the review will take. Every case is different. One case may take an hour and one case may take three days, she said in an interview.

She said members of the review team will not actually visit Kelowna, but access electronic files from Ottawa. Cpl. Foster said changes to procedures at the RCMP detachment will await the completion of the review.

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“In retrospect, I should have waited for the results of an investigation into the matter before expressing my opinion.”

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VANCOUVER – The Kelowna RCMP detachment is the first to come under the scrutiny of a specialized national RCMP review team, CTV News has learned. The revelation comes as new details emerge about the limited progress made in the two years since an "action plan" promised significant changes to Mounties investigations into sexual assaults.

Jason Myers posted, “In other words if you’re a woman don’t move to Kelowna.”

Data submitted by police agencies to Statistics Canada reveals that in 2018 the Kelowna detachment classified 40 per cent of sexual assault complaints as unfounded, or unsubstantiated; the provincial average was 15 per cent.

The discrepancy caught the attention of RCMP National Headquarters and led to the assignment of the Sexual Assault Review Team (SART), making the Kelowna investigation the first detachment-level review that the SART has undertaken, according to a statement from RCMP headquarters media relations in Ottawa. The team was originally formed to review all 2,200 RCMP sexual assault files deemed unfounded in 2016, following an extensive Globe and Mail investigation into how sexual assaults are investigated.

In December 2017, the force released The Way Forward: The RCMPs sexual assault review and victim support action plan, with an analysis of where procedures and training were lacking and a series of steps they planned to take to address shortcomings. In summary, The RCMP is taking action to strengthen police training and awareness, investigative accountability, victim support, and public education and communication.

While Mounties say theyve had updates to a course on interviewing witnesses and victims and an additional course on standards for reporting, much of the material and training appears to be voluntary.

An online training package on consent law and common sexual assault myths is available, as is investigator development and interview training that includes information on sexual assault, but a new online training course titled Using a Trauma-Informed Approach wont be available for weeks; it is also referred to as available, with no detail on whether investigators are encouraged or even expected to take it.

More importantly, the RCMP revealed A specific sexual assault investigators course is in the early planning stages, and that Kelowna detachment does not have separate, specific training for sex assault investigations.

The information comes after a Kelowna woman recently came forward, saying her historic sexual assault complaint was closed as unfounded after what she describes as a cursory investigation last year.

"It was really awkward, they had no clue what they were doing and you could tell that they didnt know how to talk about sexual assault at all, said Heather Friesen of her interview by two Mounties as she relayed her experienced of being gang-raped as a high school student. She claims the investigators seemed disinterested and dismissed her case after a couple of phone calls, one of which was to the wrong person.

"Ive had 32 years to reconcile my trauma and it was really difficult for me not to get angry with them, so I cant imagine being a fresh survivor and having to deal with them, she said, adding at the end of the day I just feel the RCMP arent doing their jobs and however they label it, unfounded to me is a slap in the face because it means theyre not believing survivors and theyre not believing 40 per cent of survivors in Kelowna, which is appalling."

When asked for a response to the detachments unfounded statistics, Cpl. Meghan Foster sent a statement acknowledging the number is unsettling and that "we understand that there are many questions about the roots of these statistics, and were taking immediate steps to get answers." 

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