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Regina Sexual Assault Centre reviewing MJPS cases where no charges were laid

The Regina Sexual Assault Centre spoke about its review of sexual assault-related police files during the recent Board of Police Commissioners meeting.
Sgt. Kevin Adrian (left) with the Moose Jaw Police Service and Lisa Miller with the Regina Sexual Assault Centre speak to the Board of Police Commissioners during its November meeting. Photo by Jason G. Antonio

The Moose Jaw Police Service has given the Regina Sexual Assault Centre access to its files as part of an independent review of sexual assault-related cases that concluded without police laying charges.

Attention has been shone recently on police investigations into sexual assaults. To improve outcomes, some agencies have incorporated several best practices into their investigations — including trauma-informed practices and victim-advocate case reviews.

The Moose Jaw Police Service (MJPS) is one organization that has incorporated victim advocate case reviews into its operational activities. As such, it invited the Regina Sexual Assault Centre (RSAC) to review its files during the week of Nov. 7 — the first such review in a partnership that began in May.

Since RSAC has many Moose Jaw clients, it recently opened a satellite office in the Family Services office at 200 Main Street South.

“It’s really something that we have been working on for a number of years to get in place,” Police Chief Rick Bourassa said recently. “It is always good to have multiple sets of eyes on these issues because we’re human, and we can all miss things and make mistakes.”

There were 24 files that the MJPS offered for review, but it reduced that number to 18 since those met the criteria.

The MJPS has not heard back yet from RSAC about its findings, although the organization is attempting to arrange a time to provide that feedback, he said.

Once the law agency receives the report, it will review it and implement the recommendations. This could include charging someone not originally charged or even disciplining an officer for intentional negligence during an investigation.

"I look forward to a robust conversation. It would be foolish of me to think we do everything perfectly," added Bourassa. "And to get the feedback will be very valuable." 

Police board presentation

Lisa Miller with RSAC and Sgt. Kevin Adrian with the MJPS spoke to the Board of Police Commissioners during its November meeting about the victim advocate case review (VACR) process.

“It’s really quite an exciting project,” Miller said.

This process started in Regina in 2019 with people who handle gender-based violence and review sexual assault-related files where officers laid no charges, she explained. They then made suggestions, such as more officer education or internal policy changes.

“What we’re looking for are specifically issues around gender bias, which is not exclusive to police. This is a social issue,” she continued. “We all have biases that do impact how we perceive certain situations.”

The VACR process has been a positive experience, with police improving their investigations and pursuing trauma-informed, victim-friendly approaches, said Miller. Investigations are complex, while people carry shame when they come forward.

“The criminal justice system itself is inherently quite re-traumatizing because we’re asking people to re-tell their stories. And if it goes to court, we’re asking (them) to re-tell it again,” she added. “So, finding approaches that are friendly for the victims and more support for the victims is helpful.”

Roughly 93 to 95 per cent of sexual assault victims do not report their assault, while for those who do, there is “a fairly low” conviction rate,” Miller said. RSAC is interested in the cases where there were no charges, where victims dropped out of the investigation process and why that occurred.

“Once we get through the first review, we’ll see where we go from there,” said Adrian. “… hopefully we get some good feedback from that.”

RSAC will review sexual assault files quarterly, while police can reopen those files if needed and talk to people again since memories are still fresh, Miller said.

RSAC won’t tell the agency how to police; it will simply offer its expertise — and that of national experts — about working with victims and handling related barriers, she added. Moreover, it won’t look at one specific officer but will review the MJPS’s overall policies.

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