Women’s groups are concerned that talks to revive a committee to review unresolved complaints about sexual assault in the Yukon ended before results could be presented.
A report detailing how Mounties are investigating sexual assault on the territory should go to the federal government in March.
Established in 2018, the Yukon Advocate Case Review Committee received funding from the federal government and three years to investigate unsubstantiated sexual assault – cases where police claim they cannot determine whether a crime has occurred or been attempted, and no charge is made.
Similar projects exist, including in Ontario and Saskatchewan, but under the city police. The Yukon Committee was the first to be chaired by grassroots lawyers for women who worked with the RCMP, said Whitehorse member Aja Mason.
The group consisted of 10 women, almost half of whom were local.
In March last year, the RCMP National Headquarters shut down the Yukon project, but negotiations were held to continue. They recently ended without compromise, said Mason, who is also the executive director of the Yukon Status of Women Council.
The RCMP said the project had been closed because of privacy concerns. Mason said the committee had taken many precautions to avoid violating privacy.
She also said that Mounties replaced the original group with a group that uses a less transparent operating model.
Yukon has a high rate of sexual assault. A 2018 survey by Statistics Canada found that 61 percent of both genders reported having been sexually or physically assaulted after age 15.
Before the project was canceled, the Yukon committee reviewed 80 unsubstantiated cases, according to Mason. Due to a nondisclosure agreement, she cannot say what has been learned.
She said members were trying to uncover the reasons for a low rate of sexual assault reporting on the territory and a high number of unsubstantiated cases.
“This project was a recognition not only of the extremely high rate of sexual and domestic violence in the Yukon, but also of the 25 percent of the cases where people went to the RCMP and said, ‘Hey, this sexual assault happened’ ( and) these were described as unfounded. “
The work, put together over two years, doesn’t end up on anyone’s desk.
“We wanted to support (the RCMP) by helping to bring about systemic change. We want indigenous people or people who have had bad experiences with the police to believe that they will be believed,” Mason said.
She said the project is likely the first to use a model where RCMP works with lawyers and frontline staff to review unsubstantiated cases.
“We had checklists for our assessment: questions like how to conduct the actual interviews? How did the officer speak to the complainant? How old was the victim? Ethnicity of the victim?
“There were also opportunities for us to provide feedback. For example, if a file contained inappropriate comments, such as ‘Oh, she was drunk again’.”
Mason said the model had been endorsed by Canada’s data protection officer, who said data protection laws weren’t an obstacle.
Yukon RCMP Supt. Chan Daktari Dara said lawyers believe the committee is at risk of violating part of the RCMP’s privacy law.
“Basically, it states: ‘The committee will not collect, store or disclose any personal information. In addition, at no time will any information leave the RCMP premises or our offices.”
Mason said the committee didn’t do that. “We never looked at the cover pages of the files, so we didn’t know the victims. We also specifically offered to work in the Yukon department and not leave any files behind. Our investigation was in line with data protection law.”
Dara said the RCMP was reviewing changes in the legislation when the committee got its approval. “It was basically a mistake on our part.”
The RCMP reached out to the original members to join a new group with a different approach. Mason said no one from the original committee had joined.
“The RCMP chooses which cases will be reviewed, how they will be reviewed, who will review them, how the recommendations or outcomes of each case will be implemented at the level of the departments under review,” she said.
Dara said the approach is being used in five other provinces and one area.
“As I understand it, it works fine.”
The federal government provided $ 374,000 to fund the original committee.
“I am disappointed that no agreement could be reached to continue this invaluable work,” said Bill Blair, Minister for Public Security.
Ann Maje Raider, who was a member of the committee, said she wanted Ottawa to step in and reinstate the committee.
“We want to work with the RCMP to resolve the issue of flawed, inadequate investigations into sexual assault cases,” said Raider, executive director of the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society for the Kaska Nation in the Yukon and northern British Columbia.
“Our sisters and brothers who are raped and attacked but who are denied justice deserve no less.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 20, 2021.
This story was produced with financial support from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship