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Yukon’s rate of sexual assault complaints dismissed as unfounded higher than national average

Rates of sexual assault accusations dismissed as unfounded are significantly lower in the communities than in Whitehorse or Dawson City, according to data collected in a nationwide investigative report by the Globe and Mail.

Lori Garrison

Special to the News

Rates of sexual assault accusations dismissed as unfounded are significantly lower in the communities than in Whitehorse or Dawson City, according to data collected in a nationwide investigative report by the Globe and Mail.

Between 2010-2014, there were 334 cases of sexual assault reported to police in Whitehorse, with 29 per cent of those cases dismissed as unfounded. Dawson had the highest rate of complaints dismissed at 35 per cent of 70 reported incidents. In Watson Lake, 21 per cent of 77 allegations were dismissed, followed by 25 per cent of 25 allegations in Ross River. In the smaller communities the figure ranged from 20 per cent in Mayo to zero in Old Crow.

The national average for unfounded dismissals in the report was 19 per cent.

Police automatically open an investigation when they receive a sexual assault complaint. When a case is deemed to be unfounded it means that police have determined that no crime has been committed or attempted. The case does not go to court and does not continue past the complaint stage. It then disappears from public record. However, the Globe and Mail report determined that the statistics for the rates of actual cases of false complaints were somewhere between two per cent and eight per cent — significantly lower than the dismissal rates in the Yukon as well as nationally. The report has prompted national questioning of how the police process claims of sexual assault.

What these numbers mean exactly is hard to say — rates of reporting in the Yukon are already very low: as few as one in 10 cases is reported, and actual numbers are thought to be even lower, said Reem Girgrah of Court Watch Yukon. If women feel they won’t be heard, or results are dismissed before they are recorded, the actual rate of reporting might be even lower than estimated, she said. Unfounded results are available only through access to information requests, which means that they are not recorded as assaults.

The high rates of dismissal uncovered in the Globe and Mail report “calls into question even our rate of reporting statistics,” said Girgrah.

“In terms of reporting, we are really in a bad way,” said Girgrah. “I’m not surprised by the Globe and Mail report at all … this (information) is nothing new.”

The report noted that there was a lower unfounded rate in jurisdictions with more female officers. Male officers often interview female victims after they have been sexually assaulted, which makes some women uncomfortable. It would help if more female officers were available for these tasks, said Diane Petrin, a women’s associate with the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre.

“Police can be very black and white (about reporting),” said Petrin.“They take a very business-like standpoint sometimes and it can be very hard on women.”

Whether the rates of reporting are simply lower in the communities or the rates at which cases are dismissed is higher in Dawson and Whitehorse than in other communities is unknown. The rate of genuinely false accusations versus the rate of falsely dismissed cases in the Yukon is not known at this time.

Social pressures on women who report sexual assaults are greater in smaller communities, Girgrah notes. A statistic provided by Kaushee’s Place in Whitehorse notes that 92 per cent of women in the Yukon who report sexual or domestic assault know their attacker prior to the incident. The national average is 80 per cent.

Perceptions about drugs and alcohol may also play a factor in determining when police find a case unfounded.

“A very high number of sexual assaults in the Yukon occur while the woman is passed out,” said Girgrah. “There’s stigmatization of women who have substance and alcohol problems and this is a big issue nationwide.”

The territories, including the Yukon, ranked among the highest dismissal rates in the country. The Yukon recently received the lowest grade out of all provinces and territories in the country in a September 2016 national report on the Canadian justice system.

RCMP Const. Julia Fox said in an email that the Globe and Mail report has caused the RCMP to review its 2016 unfounded cases, both nationally and in the Yukon.

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This version corrects an error that appeared in the March 17 print edition about the RCMP's review of unfounded cases.