Significant deficiency would need to be found
Review will look at all sexual assaults cleared as unfounded in 2015 and 2016 by Barrie city police - in which investigators don't think a crime took place or was attempted. Examiner file photo
A Barrie city police review of its unfounded sexual assaults could lead to some cases being re-opened, says an officer overseeing the probe.
Insp. Paul McGarry, who's in charge of criminal investigations, said cases would be re-opened if a significant deficiency is found in the initial investigation.
“There would have to be something that would indicate that this has not been done correctly, whether an interview was not completed correctly or the report itself did not match the information from the rest of the investigation,” he said Friday.
“Something that would indicate that justice may not have been served here.”
The review will look at all interviews, notes, physical evidence and reports for sexual assaults cleared as unfounded in 2015 and 2016 by Barrie city police - in which investigators don't think a crime took place or was attempted.
McGarry said 65 unfounded sexual assault cases and two unfounded cases of aggravated sexual assault from those two years will be reviewed.
He said the review, which is being done by a small team, is not presuming mistakes have been made in unfounded sexual assault cases.
“We believe they were done correctly, we're confident that our officers have done a professional job, but how you learn is through constructive criticism, right,” McGarry said. “So if we find a better way to serve the victims and ensure that justice is done, then that's our responsibility to do that.”
The review team consists of two Barrie police officers, a civilian with Barrie police and a counsellor with the Women and Children's Shelter of Barrie who has significant experience dealing with violence against women.
But Kathy Willis, executive director of Athena's Sexual Assault and Advocacy Centre, serving Barrie, Orillia, Midland, Alliston and Collingwood, has asked why her organization or Colibri Centre, which serves francophone women, aren't involved.
“Why aren't they (Barrie police) getting sexual assault centres involved?” she said.
“They haven't invited us to the table. We're the people who are working with the survivors of sexual assault.
“The Barrie police have not contacted me about this matter at all.”
But McGarry said those interests are well represented on the review team, and not involving Athena's and Colibri doesn't reflect upon their efforts.
“Those are certainly great organizations, they do great work, that's no reflection on them at all,” he said. “It's not a large group (doing the review), it's a small group and we're very confident that the person that is representing the shelter is very qualified for this position.”
McGarry said Barrie police will not only do a statistical review of the unfounded cases, but review the manner in which investigations were conducted.
“What we're hoping to accomplish, is by bringing in the (civilian victim's) advocate, who is not involved in our process and giving them access to all un-redacted information, that they can review this with our members and provide some input that may be of assistance on future training needs or on how this investigation was conducted from the perspective of someone who's not an investigator,” he said.
“So it may or may not affect the outcome of certain investigations, but ... (we're) trying to have someone with relevant training, relevant experience come in with a fresh set of eyes and examine how we do this. And can we do it better.”
In addition to the 2015-2016 review, city police will ensure investigators' training conforms with sexual assault procedures, Chief Kimberley Greenwood has said. This includes coding of offences to ensure consistency and accuracy, and assessing policies and procedures involving sexual assault investigations, to ensure they are sound.
She has also said this would include training for sexual assault designated officers and the deployment of members in the organization that look after these type of cases.
A Globe and Mail newspaper story on the 19% rate of sexual assault complaints determined by Canadian police forces to be unfounded, from 2010-2014, was published in February.
City police had a 25% rate of sexual assault reports – 174 of 697 in Barrie (population 146,336) – that were deemed unfounded during 2010-2014, meaning investigators don't think a crime took place or was attempted. The Ontario average was also 25%.
The Globe obtained Barrie police sexual assault records through a freedom of information request for these years. Barrie police numbers for 2014 and 2015 combine reported sexual assaults, sexual assaults with a weapon and aggravated sexual assault occurrences.
More cases to be reviewed
The scope of a Barrie city police review of its unfounded sexual assaults has not changed, but the probe of 2015-2016 now includes more cases.
In February the Examiner was told by Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood that 38 cases of sexual assault during those years were unfounded; investigators don't think a crime took place or was attempted.
But an April report from Insp. Paul McGarry states 65 unfounded sexual assault cases and two unfounded cases of aggravated sexual assault from 2015 and 2016 will be reviewed.
“Our preliminary numbers differ from numbers presented in (Thursday's police) board meeting as the search mechanism employed by the review team was more detailed,” Greenwood said.
“This more recent search yielded additional cases, which qualify for review by our team.”
But she said the parameters of the review have not changed.
“The scope has remained consistent, entailing a thorough review of all interview, notes, physical evidence and reports for sexual assault cases cleared as 'unfounded' for the time specified,” Greenwood said.
“The Barrie Police Service endeavours to ensure that each and every unfounded sexual assault investigation within our jurisdiction is identified and thoroughly examined by the review team.”
“I'd rather us doing more than less,” said James Dickie, police board chairman. “I think we have to look at them all.”
The review could be done by this fall, although a timetable is not set in stone.
Barrie police have also received nearly $140,000 in provincial funding for a sexual assault advocacy centre, to reduce the likelihood of trauma for victims. They will be assigned an advocate to help navigate the court system's complexities, with a goal of higher conviction rates. It will be aimed at victims under the age of 24.
Review of unfounded sexual assault in Barrie
2015 – 34 occurrences of unfounded sexual assaults
2015 – 1 occurrence of unfounded aggravated sexual assault
2016 – 31 occurrences of unfounded sexual assault
2016 – 1 occurrence of unfounded aggravated sexual assault
Source: Barrie city police