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Kelowna  

Kelowna Mountie ignored alleged rape victim's pleas for investigation

Police ignored rape claim

An investigation by the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) has found a former Kelowna Mountie failed to appropriately investigate a sexual assault claim reported last year.

The investigation determined Const. Lesley Smith had an improper attitude and neglected her duty after a Kelowna student told Smith she had been raped.

A 20-year-old woman who was a resident advisor at UBCO came forward to police in May 2020 to allege that she was raped by a male resident advisor in September 2019.

"I felt pretty unsafe and powerless, so I went to the RCMP to try to get some accountability or justice. If I had known everything that was going to happen, I would have just not," the victim told Castanet on Tuesday.

The victim says she specifically asked to report the incident to a female officer in hopes she would receive respect and support. "I thought that there was an understanding amongst all females, but it wasn't true in this case."

The attending investigator was Const. Lesley Smith, a former RCMP spokesperson.

The victim provided a videotaped statement to Smith. After the statement, the victim says Smith told her that investigating the complaint was not worth the RCMP’s time. Smith explained that her story was confusing and wouldn't hold up in court.

The victim alleges that Smith suggested that since the victim and suspect had dated before, it "didn't count" and because she didn't scream "no" and threaten to call the police, it wasn't an assault.

The victim says Smith offered to give her some tips so she could avoid similar situations in the future.

"It was very traumatizing to have to go through everything again for a second time, and then to have it dismissed and almost mocked, was also really traumatizing. It was not at all what I expected. She was blaming me and called the situation awkward."

In response to Smith's resistance, the victim directly asked if she was going to investigate. The victim alleges Smith said that while the suspect may not treat women well, he did not need to have his life ruined over a misunderstanding.

The victim's counsellor accompanied her while she made the report to Smith and corroborated many of the victim's claims in a report to the police complaints commission. The counsellor reported that Smith said she would call the suspect and tell him why his actions were inappropriate.

Even after Smith had done what she could to dissuade the victim from pushing ahead with charges, the victim told Castanet she was very clear with the officer that she wanted to move forward with an investigation.

"I understood that charges aren't always pressed, but I wanted an investigation and I thought I was entitled to one. The power difference and I was crying... I did push multiple times for an investigation and she just said it wasn't worth her time."

Smith placed a note on the file that falsely said the victim did not want to proceed with charges, an allegation that was confirmed by the public complaint investigation.

"That's how she got away with it," the victim said. "The file was checked by her supervisor and by the sex crimes unit and they said it was OK because I didn't want to press charges."

"I think there is a lack of education on sexual assaults and the ways it can occur. I don't know what her belief is, but I don't believe she thought what happened to me was a crime and the easiest way to sweep it under the rug was to lie about what I wanted on my file," the victim added.

'UNFOUNDED' CASES IN KELOWNA

Just months prior to the victim making her sexual assault claim to the Kelowna RCMP, the detachment had been rocked by controversy for having a much higher "unfounded" rate than the rest of B.C. when it comes to sex assault cases.

Police classify a file as “unfounded” when an investigation determines “that the offence has not occurred or been attempted." In Kelowna in 2019, nearly 40 per cent sex assaults were classified that way, compared to roughly 15 per cent across B.C.

A national investigation of the detachment's sex assault files resulted in 12 being reopened in February 2020. A new commander of the Kelowna RCMP, Supt. Kara Triance, took over the detachment in October 2020.

The victim then re-approached the detachment in roughly May 2021 to see if there was any way she could get her file reopened. She was put in the hands of the Kelowna RCMP's sex crimes unit.

"They said they would look back into everything, so they asked me to send a bunch of documents. This investigating officer redid the investigation under the guidance that I did want charges to be laid. She has now recommended charges to Crown Counsel."

The charges have not yet been approved. The Crown approval process can be lengthly.

In response to her public civilian complaint, the victim received an apology from the RCMP that supported all of the victims allegations against Smith.

Supt. Triance apologized to the victim on behalf of the force for how she was treated and the failure to properly investigate the complaint.

"After thoroughly reviewing all of the available information I do support your allegation. On behalf of the RCMP please accept my apology for the way in which you were treated and the failure to properly investigate your complaint in the first instance. Constable Lesley Smith has received operational guidance and has been made aware of my expectations regarding future assault investigations," Triance said in her apology.

Const. Smith has now "retired" from the Kelowna RCMP, said the detachment on Tuesday.

The non-profit Vancouver Rape Relief has been advocating on behalf of the victim.

“We hope that this case will be a turning point for the Kelowna RCMP and their handling of sexual assault reports. Unfortunately, poor police conduct towards rape victims is still very common in many police detachments across the province. We believe that only media exposure and consistent public pressure will force a transformative change in the criminal justice system and its response to violent crimes against women," said Sophia Hladik, a frontline worker with the organization.

The victim says she hoping her story will inspire change.

"I am past the point of seeing personal justice and I am hoping that every article that shows the true colours of the RCMP just adds to the fire of getting some change. I am hopeful I can add to the voices of women and people in Kelowna who have been affected by the RCMP negatively."

In a statement to media Tuesday, Supt. Triance said she is "deeply apologetic" about how the case was handled.

"Going forward we continue to invest in our officers, our supervisors, in training, and in processes of accountability and review. We are committed to working with partners who support survivors of violence to ensure a trauma-informed response and police accountability," Triance continued.

"We are working to ensure that our response to crime centres around persons – knowing that if we can change the trajectory of a persons life, impacted by violent crime, in how we respond and how we provide police services, we can have improved outcomes in the long term for those individuals impacted by trauma and for our society as a whole."

with files from Colin Dacre



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