Watson Lake RCMP hearing in doubt

Yukon women's organizations say the adjudication board hearing for two RCMP officers acquitted of sexual assault last March may not happen. The hearing was announced last month.

Yukon women’s organizations say the adjudication board hearing for two RCMP officers acquitted of sexual assault last March may not happen.

The hearing was announced last month.

A coalition of the Yukon Status of Women Council, Les Essentielles, Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre and Kaushee’s Place is submitting a petition to the RCMP today. More signatures are expected to follow.

The groups want the hearing held, and they want Yukon’s women’s groups to be granted standing. Above all, they want it to proceed without forcing the complainant to testify.

The hearing will decide whether officers Sean McLaughlin and Graham Belak will face sanctions, RCMP told the News in April.

But the hearing will not be held if the woman who accused the officers of sexual assault fails to attend, or refuses to testify and be cross-examined by lawyers in a room full of RCMP officials, said the coalition.

The woman, whose identity is protected, told the organizations this is what the RCMP told her.

“We’re not confirming, either way, whether that’s the case,” said Sgt. Don Rogers of the RCMP. “It’s not appropriate for us to comment on the hearing in any event. To do so risks compromising the hearing and, certainly, making any statements about the case impacts the privacy of the members and any witnesses. This is no different than any judicial hearing.”

“To demand that a victim come back and sit again to go over the same testimony is to deny her any dignity of the first process – and her family and the women of Watson Lake,” said Barbara McInerney of Kaushee’s Place.

“And it’s not her who’s on trial, it’s them,” said Ketsia Houde from Les Essentielles. “Right now, it’s their hearing, not hers. And they already have all the information from the trial, all the transcripts. They have every single detail of what she was wearing, what she was doing.

“They have everything. She doesn’t need to be there.”

The women’s groups’ request to speak at the hearing has been denied.

Anyone else, like community members, who wish to speak at the hearing had the opportunity to apply for that, said Rogers, adding he doesn’t know who has been granted standing.

Denying the community an opportunity to speak about how this has impacted them would be a travesty, said McInerney.

“I want to say a quote from one of the women in the community,” said McInerney. “What she said was: ‘I really acknowledge the courage that this woman’s got because this happened to lots of us in the communities and we need to see some kind of win on this.’”

In January, the officers were reassigned to duty outside of the territory.

“So we’re going to ship them somewhere and pretend the problem goes away,” said McInerney, adding that ultimately, the organizations want to see the two officers dismissed.

“Right now the RCMP, with the police review we just had, they’ve been telling us that they want to improve the situation, they want people to trust the RCMP,” said Houde. “And, by refusing to do this hearing, they’re saying the complete opposite.”

“To suggest that by not saying something either way somehow undermines the good things that we’ve done, I don’t think that’s a fair conclusion for people to draw,” Rogers said. “We have to respect the hearing and we have to respect the rights for the people involved.”

Because violence is a reality, people need a place to go where they know they will be safe and protected – they need to be able to trust the RCMP – especially in the small, remote communities, Houde said.

“The RCMP has a purpose and it’s not serving it right now,” she said. “They are saying that if the RCMP do something bad, they wont be disciplined and it tells people in the community that it’s not safe to go there.”

People can sign the petition by contacting the coalition at vfwc@northwestel.net

The adjudication hearing has been scheduled for June 13 to 17, in Watson Lake.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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