"They failed to take accountability”: Indigenous, women’s rights advocates demand apology from RCMP
The RCMP have remained fairly tight-lipped surrounding the conduct of a B.C. officer who asked an underage Indigenous girl whether she was "at all turned on" during an alleged sexual assault.
The teenager was questioned for more than two hours at the West Kelowna RCMP detachment in 2012, according to APTN News, which obtained the video. The video has since sparked strong condemnation from advocates and politicians.
“It was completely unprofessional and outrageous,” Megan Louis, an advocate for indigenous women and girls, told CTV News.
On Saturday, the head of the B.C. RCMP responded for the first time to the concerns.
Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan says the RCMP is limited to how much it can release, citing restrictions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, Privacy Act, an ongoing criminal investigation and a civil lawsuit.
She said despite how little they have been able to comment, it does not mean the force is not aware of the concerns.
"We agree that on the surface this case doesn’t appear to align with public expectations or the current standards and practices in place when addressing sex assault investigations and supporting victims. We also recognize that a negative experience with police investigators can bring more trauma to victims, and discourage others from reporting these crimes," she said in a press release.
Advocates said the RCMP could have taken the opportunity to say sorry.
“There was an apology missing,” said Louis. “They failed to take accountability for the police officer’s actions and the police officer’s words at the time.”
The video shows the officer pressing the girl on whether she was "at all responsive … even subconsciously" to her alleged assailant's advances.
"Were you at all turned on during this, at all? Even a little bit?" he asked.
"No," she replied.
Later, he followed up by asking: "You understand that when a guy tries to have sex with a female and the female is completely unwilling, it's very difficult, right?"
"Yeah, it hurt a lot," she responded.
Louise said the video offers a glimpse into what other young Indigenous women face.
“This kind of thing is happening all the time concerning young indigenous females,” said Louis. “There’s a lot more people out there who are afraid to come forward and speak to the police about it because of the way they are treated.”
The deputy commissioner said a review is now underway.
"I can confirm a fulsome review of the 2012 investigation is underway and we have engaged with various individuals and agencies that have expressed concerns."
“It is your right to have a women’s advocate with you”
Sonam Khangura, who works with women at Vancouver’s Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, told CTV News victims have a right to have an advocate present for a police statement, but sometimes they get push back.
“Just last night I had a woman who had to argue to the police that she should be allowed in the room,” said Khangura.
The woman, who is now 24, spoke out about how the experience has impacted her in an exclusive interview with APTN News.
"It ruined my trust in police completely," the woman said.
She said the officer accused her of making a false allegation and she was forced to write apology letters to her social worker, foster parents and the RCMP officer. No charges were laid in the case and it’s unclear if the accused, an older acquaintance, was ever interviewed.
Khangura suggested the outcome could have been different if there’d been a witness.
“It’s scary and we want women to feel the courage and bravery to come forward but when cases like this get out, it is really discouraging," she said.
Investigation standards and training have changed
Strachan said the RCMP have made efforts to change the way they handle sexual assault investigations, including strengthening police training and awareness, investigative accountability, victim support, and public education and communication.
She said officers already have training on myths surrounding sexual assault and consent law through the agency's online learning portal. The RCMP have also recently updated their course on interviewing witnesses and victims.
They are currently developing advanced courses for sexual assault investigations.
"The RCMP is committed to improving how its employees respond to victims of all crimes and investigate allegations of sexual assault," Strachan said.
It is unclear when the review of the 2012 interrogation will be complete.