Calgary police are taking steps to review sexual assault cases that investigators dismiss as unfounded — meaning they have evidence to suggest the offence didn’t occur.
A Case Review Committee is being formed to “take a second look” at cases the Calgary Police Service (CPS) dismiss as unfounded. The approach was first adopted in Philadelphia 17 years ago.
CPS investigators will meet with the independent members of the committee three times a year, according to a release, to review all new cases of reported sexual assault that have been deemed unfounded.
The committee members will be able to look over all details of the cases, except identities and private information about those involved.
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Committee members include Alberta’s Minister of Status of Women, as well as representatives from the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre and Communities against Sexual Abuse (CCASA).
“We know that sexual violence is a gendered crime. The vast majority of survivors of sexual violence are women, and I hope this helps them feel safe to come forward to tell their story,” status of women minister Stephanie MacLean said in a release.
“I want every survivor to know we believe them, and they deserve to be treated fairly and with respect.”
Sarah MacDonald, a forensic psychologist with the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, said she was looking forward to examining and providing insight on how police conduct their investigations into sexual assault reports.
“As a forensic psychologist on the committee, I am excited to provide scientific-based knowledge on memory and forensic interviewing best practices that can be incorporated into the sexual offence strategies,” she said.
Calgary police dismiss about 10 per cent of cases as unfounded
Calgary police said the initiative was undertaken as a result of a Globe and Mail investigation, which revealed police in Canada dismiss one of every five reported sexual assaults as unfounded.
At the time, CPS said, Calgary police dismissed about 10 per cent of sexual assault cases, 62 per year, as unfounded. The national average, according to the Globe and Mail, is 19 per cent.
Studies show the unfounded reporting rate for sexual assaults is between two and eight per cent.
“Calgary’s unfounded rate was lower than average, both nationally and provincially,” Staff Sergeant Bruce Walker said in a release.
“But there are still other police agencies that are doing better than us. We felt it was important to learn from their successes and see what we can do even better here.”
CPS said sexual assaults should only be dismissed as unfounded if investigators have determined the assault didn’t happen or wasn’t attempted, and that no other other offence happened at the reported time and place.
“At CCASA we know that the rate of unfounded cases has needed to be addressed across the country for a long time, and we are very hopeful that this committee will be able to effectively address it in our city,” CCASA CEO Danielle Aubry said in a release.
“We are pleased that the Calgary Police Service has taken a leadership role in recognizing the importance of this issue and is willing to open up their processes to a committee of external community partners.”
Comparatively, Edmonton’s unfounded rate is 10 per cent, Toronto rate is at seven per cent, Ottawa 28 per cent and Halifax 13 per cent.