In Canada, roughly 4,000 sexual assault cases are dismissed as “unfounded” — a police classification that means a crime didn’t occur.
After an award-winning 20-month-long investigation by The Globe and Mail uncovered the broken system that allowed this to proliferate, the Canadian police community is now reckoning with trying to fix a system that has failed women.
A conversation at the second annual Women in the World Canada Summit brought to the stage Robyn Doolittle, the investigative reporter at The Globe and Mail who broke the story, who said during her investigation, which gathered data from 870 police forces, that she uncovered a lack of understanding about everything from incapacity laws to Canadian consent laws (Canada has an affirmative consent law, which means people have to affirm consent at each step during a sexual encounter).
Even the cases that actually did go to court encountered problems. There were also basic investigative steps that weren’t taken by police. Routine procedures like interviewing witnesses, collecting surveillance footage, and other processes that were regularly done for other crimes were not being done for sexual assault cases.
But as Dr. Pamela Palmater, Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, noted, “This isn’t new. This didn’t start with Unfounded or gender equality.” She traced the current problem back to its roots. “The very first perpetrators were police officers, and this is why we have murdered and missing indigenous women, because if you’re a perpetrator of sexual violence against indigenous women and girls or black women or other racialized people, how likely is it that you’ll investigate others that come with those claims?”
There are also 2,400 complaints of sexual harassment by female RCMP officers, suggesting that the system itself is flawed from the inside out.
“This isn’t just a gendered issue,” she said. “This is intersectionality between gender and race, and they believe as they’ve colonized the lands in this territory they’ve also colonized our bodies — and that venomous mindset has never left the police force.”
The discussion about how to move forward continued between Doolittle, Dr. Palmater, Leanne Fitch, Chief of Police at Fredericton Police Force, and moderator Habiba Nosheen, co-host of The Fifth Estate, CBC. Watch highlights and the full panel above.
More from the 2018 Canada Summit