Blue Line

Calls grow for Newfoundland police to reckon with sexual assault claims, culture

April 21, 2023  By The Canadian Press

Apr. 21, 2023, St. John’s, Nfld. – As a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer heads to jail for sexual assault, calls are growing for the force to reckon with mounting allegations against its officers, and commit to changing its culture.

“The fact that there have been so many women who have come forward suggests that there’s a culture problem in the RNC – a deep, cultural problem,” said Lise Gotell, a University of Alberta professor who studies gender and law. “If these allegations are true, I think that the RNC needs to acknowledge that there is a problem, they need to apologize, and they need to engage in fairly fundamental reform.”

Every police force in the country should be paying attention to the situation unfolding within Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial police force, Gotell said.

RNC Const. Carl Douglas Snelgrove is back behind bars after the province’s Court of Appeal this week upheld his 2021 conviction for sexual assault. Snelgrove was sentenced to four years for raping a young woman in her living room while on duty in 2014.

Shortly after his conviction, St. John’s lawyer Lynn Moore announced she had been approached by several women who said they, too, had allegedly been sexually assaulted by members of the force, at least one of whom is not Snelgrove. She has since filed two lawsuits on behalf of eight of those women. It’s not clear exactly how many officers are accused, because most of the women did not know their alleged assailants and were only able to provide descriptions, Moore has said.

Moore said Wednesday there are more lawsuits to come. She said that so far, there has been a “lack of openness and transparency” about how the RNC is handling the accumulating allegations – “which I think is very bad for a police force, especially a police force that is facing allegations of very serious breaches.”

Like Gotell, Moore said she would like the provincial police to acknowledge they have a problem and apologize.

“I think it would be very important to implement screening processes so that they can weed out misogynists at the beginning, and also to conduct a training on the patriarchy and misogyny and sexism,” Moore said. “That’s the source of the problem, and that’s what needs to be attacked.”

RNC Const. James Cadigan has said that since Snelgrove was first tried in 2017, the force has not offered its members any training about consent, sexual assault or abuse of power, which became a key point in the case. An access to information request for any communication or notices of training involving sexual assault, consent, abuse of power or trust returned no results. The request covered early 2017 to late 2022.

The RNC did not return a request for comment sent Thursday.

A response to a separate information request said the force launched six investigations between 2017 and 2021 into sexual assault allegations against its members. The investigations included internal and external probes, and those prompted by public complaints. It’s unclear how many officers were the subject of complaints.

The province’s police watchdog released a report last August saying it had investigated six potential incidents of sexual assault or misconduct by at least one Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer, adding that five of those incidents had already been investigated by the RNC. The report said the police force let that officer retire as an “informal resolution” to a sexual assault complaint that the watchdog said involved a potentially criminal offence.

Bridget Clarke of the St. John’s Status of Women Council said she believes the force has systemic issues with misogyny and abuse of power. “I think what we really need is a significant overhaul of policy, of operations, of their culture, and a commitment to doing that in a meaningful way,” she said in a recent interview.

Gotell noted that communities all over Canada are calling for examinations of misogyny in policing, adding that a recommendation by a St. John’s-based Indigenous group – First Voice – to establish a civilian-led oversight board in the province is a basic step police and governments could take to address those calls.

She questioned whether the public could have confidence in police officers investigating other police officers in matters of sexual misconduct. “I’m not sure that I would advise any woman who has experienced police misconduct, particularly of a sexual nature, to make a complaint to the police.”

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