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Hearing shatters trust

On June 13, an RCMP adjudication board held a disciplinary hearing in Watson Lake into the conduct of constables Sean McLaughlin and Graham Belak, two members recently acquitted of sexual assault.

On June 13, an RCMP adjudication board held a disciplinary hearing in Watson Lake into the conduct of constables Sean McLaughlin and Graham Belak, two members recently acquitted of sexual assault. The hearing was called to determine whether they had violated the RCMP code of conduct, which prohibits members from “disorderly and disgraceful conduct that brings disrepute to the force.”

According to their testimony in Yukon Supreme Court, in the early morning hours of March 8, 2009, McLaughlin and Belak engaged in numerous sex acts with a young married nurse new to the community of Watson Lake whom they had met at a party hosted by one of her co-workers on the evening of March 7. The woman had consumed a lot of alcohol, and McLaughlin and Belak were aware of this.

The RCMP test of “disorderly and disgraceful conduct” does not require a conviction for criminal wrongdoing. Yukon women’s groups expected that when “M” Division’s commanding officer Chief Supt. Peter Clark initiated formal discipline the internal hearing would focus on the conduct of the members, who are governed by the Code of Conduct, and not on the question of criminality, which had already been determined by the Court.

Although Clark was in Watson Lake on the day of the hearing, he did not set foot in the courtroom during the proceedings. Neither did his lawyer.

Instead, their agent filed a motion to adjourn until a later date, and called an RCMP superintendent to testify that a witness summons had not been served on the complainant in time for her to comply. As the lawyers for McLaughlin and Belak argued, RCMP failed to do due diligence on locating the complainant and serving a witness summons. In a subsequent statement, Clark said the board “dismissed the complaints primarily due to the nonattendance of a key witness.” This statement shifts attention away from the members’ conduct, and from Clark’s responsibility to present a case.

The hearing in Watson Lake was over in less than two hours. It was flawed, careless, and unjust. At the hearing, McLaughlin’s lawyer failed to respect the publication ban imposed by the court. He named the complainant several times. Although the board had used her initials, neither the board nor the agent for the appropriate officer interrupted to remind him of the publication ban. Several times during the hearing, the parties used incorrect dates for the incident.

The RCMP appropriate officer responsible for discipline of its members called no witnesses and presented no evidence to hold McLaughlin and Belak accountable for their conduct.

Instead, RCMP were critical of the complainant for being unwilling to testify. After the board dismissed the case because “the allegations are not established,” Clark issued a statement laying blame on “the failure of a key witness to attend.”

Subsequent media coverage has focused on the failure of a witness to attend the proceeding, when she was never served a summons. It is only a matter of months since the complainant lived through one of life’s toughest ordeals, that of the victim in a rape trial. All of the evidence from that trial was available to the adjudication board. To try, needlessly, to force this young woman to relive that agony was nothing short of harassment.

The hearing in Watson Lake this week was a travesty of justice. Women present said later that they are afraid for their daughters, who will not feel confident to call the police to report sexual assault. Elder Dorothy Smith noted it reminded her of residential schools, when the priests who sexually abused the children were just transferred to another school, even when the bishop knew what they had done.

If Clark believes his own statement “the members’ actions are not compatible with the values of the RCMP” and “fall short of the high expectations we hold of our members,” he has failed to demonstrate his ability, or willingness, to act on that belief.

Yukon women’s groups requested a meeting with the Yukon Minister of Justice Marian Horne, in January 2011, to discuss findings and recommendations presented in our reports submitted to the 2010 Review of Yukon’s Police Force.

That invitation stands, and in light of this week’s events it is all the more urgent.

In the absence of any appropriate response by the RCMP to women’s groups’ legitimate concerns, the Yukon government must act.

Any trust women had that the RCMP would discipline these two constables appropriately has been shattered.

Women’s advocate Lois Moorcroft is a former Yukon Justice minister and a current NDP candidate.