Stratford police say most 'unfounded' sex assaults misclassified
Published Thursday, August 3, 2017 6:31PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 3, 2017 6:55PM EDT
When The Globe and Mail released a comprehensive look at the issue of sexual assault cases being deemed unfounded across Canada, Stratford stood out as an apparent outlier.
An unfounded sex assault complaint is one where the case isn’t prosecuted because investigators believe there is no merit to the complaint.
The Globe and Mail looked at all sexual assault complaints made between 2010 and 2014. Across Canada, 19 per cent of complaints were deemed to be unfounded.
In Stratford, during the same time, the rate was 48 per cent.
The city’s police service announced a review of those cases as well as of how the organization handles sexual assaults.
Results of the review were made public Thursday, with police saying that the majority of the supposedly unfounded cases had actually been mislabeled.
In reality, they said, the city’s unfounded rate should have been 18.4 per cent – based on 21 out of 114 complaints being found baseless.
In the press release announcing the results, police did not explain how those cases were mislabeled or whether any further action would be taken on them.
CTV News made several requests to Stratford police Thursday for interviews about this issue. Two minutes after the press release was issued, we were told that Chief Mike Bellai – listed as the police service’s contact for the issue – had left for the day.
Bellai said in the release that police see “room for improvement” in their handling of sexual assault complaints.
To that end, police are preparing to adopt the ‘Philadelphia model’ of overseeing sexual assault cases, with community groups regularly reviewing cases.
Additionally, police will be given more training on how to deal with sexual assault complaints, and all unfounded cases dating back to 2000 will be reviewed.
Police say they will also push for sexual assault kits to be made available locally, instead of only via travel to Kitchener or London.
Tahinh McDonnell, a victim of sexual assault who claims police mishandled her case, says she sees a lot of similarities between what police say they will do and what she has been hoping they will do.
“If they are indeed going to adopt the Philadelphia model, that’s fantastic,” she said.