RCMP officers acquitted of sexual assault

Two Watson Lake RCMP officers charged with assault were acquitted on Tuesday. Constables Shawn McLaughlin, 33, and Graham Belak, 30, were found not guilty a little more than a year after a woman made a complaint that the officers drugged and raped her in Belak's Watson Lake home.

Two Watson Lake RCMP officers charged with assault were acquitted on Tuesday.

Constables Shawn McLaughlin, 33, and Graham Belak, 30, were found not guilty a little more than a year after a woman made a complaint that the officers drugged and raped her in Belak’s Watson Lake home on March 8, 2009.

Both officers hugged and kissed family and friends after Justice Leigh Gower handed down his decision to a packed courtroom. They declined to comment following the decision.

Before Gower entered the room, the mood was tense. People attending the decision shuffled quietly and barely spoke. An awkward moment arose when the Outside lawyers for both the woman and the officers spoke loudly on the speakerphone about the defence lawyers’ fishing trip on the weekend.

When Gower finally walked in and began explaining his decision, he said the case all came down to credibility.

Did he believe the woman or did he believe the officers? Both sides offered wildly different versions of what happened on the night of the incident.

The woman, who cannot be named due to a publication ban, alleged she was drugged and then attacked by both officers. They allege the sexual intercourse was consensual and that the woman was conscious the whole time.

In the end, Gower found over a dozen reasons not to believe the alleged victim. And he heaped praise on the officers for providing their testimony without any major inconsistencies.

Judging credibility is not a science, Gower said. He considered everything from the way the witnesses conducted themselves on the stand to the way their stories changed over the course of the investigation.

Gower found the woman’s testimony to be choppy, defensive and argumentative, he said.

The woman testified that she had a good knowledge of date rape drugs and she knew there was only a short time frame before the drugs were out of her system.

After the incident, the woman walked past a hospital and didn’t file her complaint until 24 hours after the alleged rape.

Considering that a toxicology test would have been the best evidence against the officers, Gower was confounded by the woman’s decision not to get tested earlier.

She said her critical thinking skills were impaired after the event and that she was afraid McLaughlin and Belak would be dispatched to respond to the complaint.

It’s inconceivable that either officer would have been dispatched to respond, said Gower.

The woman’s claim that she was unable to speak when she passed the hospital, due to the date rape drugs in her system, was also questionable, said Gower.

The woman testified that she couldn’t talk when allegedly Belak began having intercourse with her. But she didn’t mention having the same trouble speaking during two other episodes she remembers that evening, said Gower.

The judge also accepted the evidence of Dr. Danielle Sergeeva, the doctor who performed the rape kit on the woman.

Sergeeva testified that the woman offered two different stories on the morning she decided to come forward. The first story involved being raped on the floor. The second time, the woman added that she had been raped on the couch, too.

Sean Walsh, the first person the woman told about the incident, also remembers hearing two different stories.

In the first story, the woman was hesitant about her ordeal, saying, “I think Graham raped me, I don’t think Shawn did anything.” Later that day, she was certain that Belak had raped her and that McLaughlin played some kind of role, too.

Gower didn’t believe the woman’s reasons why she didn’t leave when McLaughlin pressed himself against her from behind. She testified that she felt an erection but she didn’t decide to leave. There was a 30- to 45-second lapse between that moment and the sexual attack, said the woman.

Gower found that story to be internally inconsistent and illogical.

The woman, for example, had very distinct memories about some specifics that evening, like the furniture in Belak’s bedroom – a room she claims never to have entered. Her inability to provide detailed recollections of the rest of the evening doesn’t jive with those vivid memories she provided in court, said Gower.

Finally, during her first interviews with police after making the complaint, the woman testified that her husband was “pissed” when she came home after the incident.

But during last week’s trial, she changed her story and said her husband wasn’t angry when she came home, just upset. She also denied that he swore at her, which conflicted with her previous evidence.

The officers, on the other hand, had only minor discrepancies in their testimony. Gower relied a lot on the fact that their stories didn’t conflict.

He also didn’t believe that the officers would take the risk of drugging a woman who, by the accounts of many witnesses at the party before the incident, was sexually interested in both officers.

The officers are still facing serious repercussions from the police force itself, including the possibility of losing their jobs.

Both officers have been served with an allegation that they contravened the RCMP code of conduct. Under the RCMP Act, any officer who breaches the code can be disciplined, said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Don Rogers.

McLaughlin and Belak will have to appear before an adjudication board that will be presided over by three RCMP officers.

It’s like a quasi-judicial hearing, where both the RCMP and the officers will file evidence and listen to witnesses.

The punishments range from a written reprimand to dismissal.

A date has not been set for the hearing nor has a location been found. The hearing will be open to public, said Rogers.

Contact James Munson at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read