Calgary police are launching a new committee to review sexual assault cases that have been closed as unfounded.
Police announced Thursday they are adopting what is known as the Philadelphia Model, which will see five community agencies meet with police at least three times a year to review all new sexual offence cases that have been classified as unfounded.
“While private information and identities will not be shared with the committee, they will have access to all other details in the files, and we will walk through every step of the investigations that occurred,” said Staff Sgt. Bruce Walker with the Calgary police sex crimes unit.
“This committee will offer advice on whether an investigation could be improved to ensure that we have done as thorough of an investigation as possible. The committee members will also be able to suggest ways our training policies and procedures can be improved to help better serve the victims of sexual offences.”
The committee includes representatives from the Calgary Sexual Assault Response Team, Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, the Alberta Status of Women Ministry and the Mount Royal University sexual violence response and awareness co-ordinator.
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Following a national media investigation, the Calgary Police Service conducted a review of about 175 unfounded sexual offence cases from the past five years. During the review, one case was re-opened for further investigation and 47 were reclassified from unfounded to “open, inactive.”
Police say in Calgary a sexual assault case should only be classified as unfounded when a police investigation has determined that the offence reported did not occur and was not attempted, and that no other criminal offence took place at the reported time and location.
Danielle Aubry, CEO of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, said the Philadelphia Model has been around for more than 17 years.
“It brings together very specifically front-line sexual assault service providers to examine police files,” she said.
Calgary is the first major Canadian city to adopt the model.
Aubry said sexual assault centres across the country have known the rate of cases closed as unfounded is a problem for “many, many years.”
“Moving forward, it’s amazing that we’re here at this point today where there is openness in the community to revisit some of the files,” she said.
Calgary has an unfounded rate of about 10 per cent, compared to around 18 per cent provincially, Walker said. Most studies show the actual unfounded reporting rate for sexual assaults is between two and eight per cent.
“Our hope with this new committee is that we are able to improve an already successful work among our members,” said Walker.
Sarah MacDonald, a forensic psychologist from the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, said she is encouraged by the new committee.
“I’m very proud to be part of this committee and happy that Calgary is really being a leader in the country in pursuing this kind of model,” she said.
“It’s really quite unique and very encouraging that Calgary is pursuing an external model for review.”
She added that the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre sees 128 new cases every month, of which 68 per cent are serious sexual abuse cases.
“It’s a very large number and sometimes when we think about sexual assault, we tend to think about the adults, but it’s important to know that this is a very big issue for our kids, youth and teenagers as well,” she said.
Police said they will also be improving training for investigators who deal with sexual assault trauma and will be designating an officer as a sexual offence co-ordinator to ensure all sexual offences are being tracked and investigated properly.
The first committee meeting was to be held Thursday. The group will review cases starting from January of this year.
With files from Petra Abote.