Yukon RCMP Superintendent Chan Daktari Dara speaks to media in Whitehorse on Jan. 28, 2020. Dara explained that the committee had planned to share data with anonymity mechanisms in place, but those mechanisms still breached privacy laws. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon RCMP Superintendent Chan Daktari Dara speaks to media in Whitehorse on Jan. 28, 2020. Dara explained that the committee had planned to share data with anonymity mechanisms in place, but those mechanisms still breached privacy laws. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Women’s groups decry cancellation of sexual assault review committee

Advocates say shuttering the committee over privacy law is “absurd”

Three Yukon women’s organizations are decrying the federally-ordered shutdown of a local committee reviewing sexualized assault cases.

The Yukon Advocate Case Review (YACR) launched in 2018. It was led by the Yukon Status of Women Council and pledged to review sexualized assault files labeled “unfounded” or where no one was charged.

Federal powers have now shut the committee down, citing privacy concerns.

“Transparency and privacy considerations are two ends of a spectrum. The RCMP … is leaning a bit too far into the privacy end of that spectrum at the expense of transparency,” said Aja Mason, executive director of the Yukon Status of Women Council, in a press release.

The press release, issued in collaboration with the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society and the Dawson Women’s Shelter, slams the decision to shutter the review process.

“We want to work with the RCMP to help them fix the problem of flawed, inadequate investigations into cases of sexual assault,” said Ann Maje Raider, executive director of the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society.

“The RCMP excuse that women’s groups’ research participants would violate the privacy of sexual assault victims is absurd.”

The YACR had already conducted reviews of several cases, in collaboration with the Yukon RCMP M Division, when the project was cancelled. RCMP Headquarters ordered the project should be stopped in March 2020.

Yukon RCMP Superintendent Chan Daktari Dara told the News the project was the first of its kind in Canada.

“We were very excited about the partnership with the Yukon Status of Women Council and we basically built the plane as we flew it,” Dara said.

“We had to cancel it, because the way we were doing it was … potentially breaching the privacy of victims.”

Dara explained that privacy laws allow the RCMP and the women’s council to access sexualized assault files as part of the review committee.

“That’s not the problem,” Dara said. “The thing is, they can’t use that information for any other purposes outside the (committee) roof…. They can’t go and use that information to write a report to the Yukon government or Yukoners or use that data to publish an article in the newspaper.”

Dara explained that the committee had planned to share data with anonymity mechanisms in place, but those mechanisms still breached privacy laws. Without the ability to publish the data outside of the review committee bubble, advocates argued the review would be ineffective, Dara said.

“We tried to find a way to make it work,” Dara said, but found the inability to publicly share information led to an impasse and a federal order to shut the committee down.

The RCMP have replaced YACR with a new initiative, the Sexual Assault Investigation Review Commitee (SAIRC) with essentially the same mission statement. The main difference is that it’s an internal review process, which critics say lack accountability and transparency.

The press release from the trio of Yukon advocacy groups points out that the closure of the original committee violates calls from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls to increase police accountability and partnerships with front-line organizations.

It also argues that the SAIRC allows RCMP to control which files get reviewed, how they are reviewed and what recommendations are shared.

Dara said Yukon RCMP is recruiting local advocates for the new committee to enhance its third-party perspective.

“We obviously have this disagreement with the Yukon Status of Women’s Council, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not able to work collaboratively on other issues and move forward,” Dara said.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing is, are we going to make the outcome of victims better?”

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

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