Prince Edward OPP dismiss one in three sex assault allegations
In April last year, Prince Edward OPP asked for help in solving a violent sexual assault that left the victim in hospital with serious injuries. They were seeking two men—two rapists on the loose. The yellow caution tape strung across the back of the Sobey’s parking lot in downtown Picton was a bleak reminder that even this small town wasn’t immune to violent crime.
Then, a week later, the OPP released a statement. The assault didn’t happen. The statement thanked those who came forward with information, and the police did not provide further details.
For many, that was good enough. But for some, the details remained unsettling. What actually happened that night? After all, someone was brought to the hospital with serious injuries.
This weekend, The Globe and Mail published the result of a nearly twoyear long investigation into how police investigate sexual assaults. The report examined police departments across the country, and learned that in many cases, after an investigation, allegations of assault are closed as ‘unfounded.’ That means the investigators believe no crime has taken place.
These allegations don’t end in a charge. The courts are never involved.
According to the report, 19 per cent of sexual assault allegations in Canada were closed as unfounded. In Ontario, the number was 25 per cent. But the report also broke down the investigation into individual police departments.
In Prince Edward County, one in three allegations of sexual assault brought to the Prince Edward OPP detachment are closed as unfounded.
Interestingly County OPP have much better record, however, with general assault. Only 12 per cent of such cases are determined to be unfounded.
The issue isn’t manpower. Annually, the local detachment investigates roughly 200 cases of assault. There are about 30 cases of sexual assault brought forward each year.
The implications are chilling. According to Statistics Canada, victims only report sexual assault about five per cent of the time. For each case that goes to police, there are 19 incidents that go unreported.
And although it is certainly possible that someone may come forward to police with false allegations of sexual assault, it’s hard to believe that for every two victims, someone is lying. For a victim deciding whether or not to report a sexual assault, this information can be discouraging.
The Times reached out to OPP Detachment Commander Barry Freeburn, for a response.
“I have no comment, I don’t know what I can say,” said Freeburn, before abruptly hanging up.
Robyn Doolittle, the report’s author, wasn’t surprised by that reaction.
“The OPP didn’t talk to us either, so that’s not surprising to me that they didn’t talk to you,” says Doolittle.
Peter Leon, communications officer for the OPP’s head office in Orillia, offered more insight.
“It is going to take a period of time to go back to the records management system and [review sexual assault cases],” Leon said, confirming the organization will be investigating the numbers in the Globe’s report. “We will have to look at it detachment by detachment. I don’t want to speculate. In fairness, this article just came out over the weekend, and we need to take time to look at our investigations.”
He explained the OPP’s process for handling sexual assault allegations. Front-line uniformed officers will take an initial report, and then an investigator with “specialized one-week training in sexual assault investigation” follows up.
“First and foremost, the public has to be aware of the fact that the OPP take allegations of sexual assualt seriously, and these are incidents that have to be investigated,” said Leon. “It’s very important for the public to realize that the procedures we have in place are in place for a reason.”
Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Todd Smith was cautious to criticize the police, wondering if the numbers were skewed because closing a case by designating the allegation as unfounded was being used incorrectly.
“It’s an alarming number, to see it that high, and it makes you wonder why the number is as high as it is,” says Smith. “You wonder if they’re using the designation properly, or if they’re using unfounded when perhaps investigators or the Crown believe there’s not enough evidence to get a conviction… or maybe the complainant doesn’t want to lay charges.”
Smith did, however, say he expects the province’s PC critic for community safety and correctional services, Rick Nicholls, to make a comment about the issue. No public comment had been recieved as of press time.