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Canadian Police Revisiting More Than 10,000 Dismissed Sexual Assault Cases

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are reviewing all sex assault cases from last year that were dismissed as "unfounded," or baseless, as well as some older cases. A newspaper investigation found that 1 in 5 sexual assault complaints in Canada over a five-year period were designated as "unfounded."
Eugene Hoshiko

After a newspaper investigation concluded that one-fifth of all sexual assault complaints in Canada were dismissed as "unfounded," or baseless — a far higher percentage than for other types of crime — police forces across the country are revisiting old cases.

In total, police forces are reviewing more than 10,000 rape and assault allegations that were dismissed as "unfounded," The Globe and Mail reports.

The newspaper previously reported that from 2010-2014, more than 27,000 such cases were given that designation, meaning they effectively disappeared from the Canadian justice system.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are reviewing all such cases from 2016 as well as a "sample" of previous allegations, the CBC reports. A number of local police forces are revisiting old cases, as well — sometimes voluntarily, the broadcaster says, and sometimes at the demand of a civilian oversight board.

The police chief of London, Ontario, has apologized to victims, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his administration would "do more" on the issue.

The flurry of responses were prompted by an investigation published by the Globe and Mail earlier this month.

The newspaper found that the number of sexual assault cases dismissed as "unfounded" was unusually high compared with other alleged crimes. The categorization means no crime had been attempted or committed. Such cases don't factor into a police force's crime statistics.

Because the number of unfounded cases wasn't made public, reporter Robyn Doolittle sent hundreds of freedom of information requests to police forces across Canada. She found that nationwide more than 19 percent of sexual assault cases were dismissed as "unfounded" — nearly twice the rate for physical assault, and far higher than the rate for other crimes.

Here's more from the Globe and Mail's original report:

"True unfounded cases, which arise from malicious or mistaken reports, are rare. Between 2 per cent and 8 per cent of complaints are false reports, according to research from North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. The Globe's findings suggest that police in Canada are closing a disproportionate number of rape cases as unfounded, a phenomenon that distorts the country's crime statistics.

"Inflated unfounded rates create the impression that police receive fewer complaints of sexual assault than they actually do. In turn, that gives the appearance that more complaints lead to an arrest."

The report also found "vast discrepancies" between jurisdictions — meaning that a person who reported a rape had very different odds of being believed by police officers, depending on where she or he lived.

Police in Windsor, Ontario, dismissed 3 percent of assault allegations as unfounded; in London, Ontario, police dismissed 30 percent. Winnipeg police "unfounded" just 66 of 3,483 allegations. Police in Saint John, New Brunswick, dismissed 312 of 617.

Most people whose cases were closed as unfounded were never told by police that their allegations had been dismissed. In some cases, police marked the cases as baseless without conducting interviews with witnesses or suspects.

In one incident more than a decade ago, police dismissed as "unfounded" the case of a 13-year-old girl who had been impregnated and told police the father was a 27-year-old man. Authorities discredited her account, apparently without ever conducting a paternity test.

The Globe's investigation opens with the 2010 story of a college student in London, Ontario, who told police she was raped — outdoors, with bystanders taking photos or videos as she told the man to stop, she said. In a videotaped interview, a police detective told her that her clothes weren't "torn or anything," erroneously said that her account of a sudden blackout while drinking wasn't plausible, and suggested she "maybe the sex was consensual" and she was more upset by the voyeurism.

A suspect was contacted and "warned," police said, but the case was closed as unfounded.

That case was reopened by police after the Globe approached the police force for comment.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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