RCMP does not discipline officers

The disciplinary hearing held for two former Watson Lake RCMP officers lasted less than two hours. It was scheduled to run the entire week.

UPDATED VERSION

The disciplinary hearing held for two former Watson Lake RCMP officers lasted less than two hours.

It was scheduled to run the entire week.

Officers Graham Belak and Shawn McLaughlin were accused of raping a former nurse in the southern Yukon town in March 2009 and were acquitted of the sexual assault charges by Justice Leigh Gower in Yukon Supreme Court in March 2010.

The RCMP promised the internal adjudication board review would take place, but with a dozen words Monday, the hearing ended.

The former nurse who laid the original charges refused to appear, and no other witnesses or evidence were presented.

“Many of the women that were in the courtroom in Watson Lake yesterday felt betrayed,” said women’s advocate Lois Moorcroft. “Yukon women expected that this code of conduct hearing would be about the conduct of the members, that it would not be about the conduct of the woman they had sex with.”

But even before the three-member panel read out its 12-word decision, Moorcroft knew nothing would happen and the officers would be spared disciplinary action, she said.

While the charges mentioned the allegation they conducted themselves in a disgraceful manner that would bring discredit to the police force, it was hinged on the charges that, while off duty as members of the RCMP, the men engaged in sexual relations without consent and applied force without consent, said Moorcroft, reading from the notes she took on Monday morning.

The Yukon Supreme Court already said they were not guilty of sexual assault, the hearing was supposed to be about whether their actions contradicted the RCMP’s code of conduct, she said.

And that allegation is supported by the commanding officer, Supt. Peter Clark, in a statement he made after the hearing.

“Despite the dismissal of the allegations against Cst(s) Belak and McLaughlin, I would like to state categorically that the members’ actions are not compatible with the mission, vision, and values of the RCMP,” he said in the statement posted on the Yukon’s RCMP website. “Their behavior falls far short of the high expectations which we hold of our members, both on duty and off duty.”

And yet, it was Clark, serving as the appropriate officer (the de facto Crown prosecutor) for the hearing, who was tasked with calling witnesses, filing evidence and calling the officers’ conduct into review. A task that, except for his representative’s agent’s statement the former nurse had not been summoned to attend the hearing, he did not fulfill.

He didn’t even enter the building in Watson Lake on Monday, said Moorcroft.

As well, the lawyer for the two officers used the former nurse’s name multiple times, disobeying the publicity ban, and presented an incorrect date of the incident, Moorcroft said.

“There’s lots to be said about the fact that the RCMP disciplinary process is not an effective mechanism for holding members accountable for their conduct,” she said, noting the example it sets for younger generations.

“I know it’s not right,” said one Kaska elder from Watson Lake who did enter the building for Monday’s hearing. “It’s not fair.

“They have no respect for the people. And I think they lost the respect from the public because how can we respect them when something like that happened?”

The elder wonders how the RCMP can be trusted to investigate sexual assault cases in the future, and whether or not women will trust the RCMP enough to feel comfortable to go to them if they are sexually victimized.

“How can you go for help from them when they …?” her voice trailed off.

Even according to the officers’ own testimonies in Yukon Supreme Court, the former nurse was intoxicated and had smoked marijuana before they began to have group sex in multiple positions for several hours.

Monday’s hearing was like theatre, said Julianna Scramstad, of the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre.

“Everyone got dressed up and showed up and came and went through the actions of having this disciplinary hearing, but nothing at all actually happened,” she said. “And it seemed quite clear that nothing was actually intended to happen. It seemed like a joke.

“It was really devastating. It was shattering for us. And women from Watson Lake are saying, ‘Who do we trust now?’”

Parts of the territory’s recent policing review stemmed from this case, said Scramstad.

Women’s groups are still considering if they will be willing to continue work with the RCMP, she said.

“This certainly hasn’t been a step in the process of restoring any kind of trust at all, and it was an opportunity to do that,” she said. “It was totally a missed opportunity.”

Outside the hearing, Clark said he was taking the situation very seriously, said Scramstad.

“Really? Do you? When are you going to start showing us you take this seriously?” she said, Tuesday. “It’s just a total dismissal of our concerns. And it says, again, that women aren’t going to be heard or listened to or trusted. Like our word isn’t part of the conversation, and that’s not a way to rebuild trust.”

After five requests for an interview this week, Clark eventually said he was unavailable. The Whitehorse RCMP detachment wouldn’t confirm whether any informal disciplinary actions would be taken with Belak and McLaughlin, which could range from counselling to a reprimand. No formal action will be taken – too much time has passed according to the RCMP Act.

“It’s a dead issue now,” confirmed Sgt. Greg Cox at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa. “You can’t go back after the fact.”

Both officers are still working for the RCMP, but have been transferred outside of the territory.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com