Blue Line

London, Ont., police chief’s apology a good step but missing key elements: experts

February 9, 2024  By Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

Feb. 9, 2024, London, Ont. – A southwestern Ontario police chief’s apology this week for the time it took to lay sexual assault charges against five professional hockey players marked an important step in acknowledging harm but lacked key elements needed to demonstrate full accountability and rebuild trust, experts say.

In a news conference that drew national attention Monday, London, Ont., police Chief Thai Truong apologized to a complainant and her family on behalf of the force for taking nearly six years to charge five then-members of Canada’s 2018 world junior hockey team.

But the chief repeatedly declined to explain why the case was initially closed without charges in 2019, or what prompted the review that led investigators to reopen it in 2022, citing the ongoing court case. Truong said there would be a time when he could provide more information, adding he was “confident” such a situation wouldn’t happen again.

None of the allegations against the players have been tested in court. All five have said, through their lawyers, that they will defend themselves against the allegations.

The chief did well to acknowledge the delay and that the harm it caused goes “far beyond” the complainant, and appeared sincere in expressing his regret, said Shannon Moore, a professor at Brock University whose research focuses on restorative justice and trauma-informed policy, practice and pedagogy.

However, “there are many more pieces that are needed” in order to help repair some of the harm done, she said.

An effective apology needs to reflect the “whole truth of the harm caused,” and that goes beyond just the time it took to lay charges, Moore said. “It’s also what happened to just lead to this delay – what actions weren’t taken, which actions were taken.”

It’s also important to uncover and address any systemic issues that led to the decision-making, she said.

As well, “there has to be action for this to feel meaningful, like changes within the police force, for instance,” she said.

Police may be limited in what they can say at this time, but must demonstrate an “absolute commitment to taking action when some of those limitations are lifted,” Moore said.

“It comes down to trust, the trust needs to be rebuilt, because it has been broken,” she said.

“Until someone that feels an impact from this harm has a sense that real reparation has been taken forward or a real understanding of the totality of the harm caused, then that trust isn’t built.”

In an emailed statement, Truong said Monday’s news conference was meant to provide context for the charges, with the understanding that there would be limitations on what could be revealed.

“We understand and acknowledge that there were several questions that we were not able to answer during the press conference, but as I shared with the public – there will be a time and a place for me to speak to these questions when the investigation has made its way through the court process,” he said in his emailed statement.

“Any discussion into the particulars of the investigation may put the success of that prosecution at risk. Our main priority at this time is to protect the prosecution and support the victim of this very serious alleged crime.”

While the chief must be mindful of the criminal court case and what defence lawyers could bring up at trial, there are ways to indicate action is being taken without compromising legal proceedings, said Melanie Randall, a law professor at Western University whose work focuses on sexual violence, including state accountability for responding to such violence.

Truong could make an “explicit promise to be fully forthcoming” at the end of the trial, with a detailed report and external oversight, rather than offering “a vague ‘we can’t talk about that now,’” she said.

The force could also ramp up its work with community groups and supports related to violence against women, so that those groups could attest to a “concrete change,” she said.

When a public institution apologizes, it’s important that its actions align with its words, she said.

“Words are important, but actions are more important,” she said.

Randall recalled participating in efforts to hold Toronto police accountable in the case of Jane Doe, a woman who was sexually assaulted by serial rapist Paul Callow, also known as the “balcony rapist,” in the 1980s. Doe sued police for failing to warn residents in the area that there was a rapist at large – a case she won in the late 1990s.

Police at the time issued a public apology but then rescinded it during the civil trial, and fought to avoid having to pay compensation, Randall said.

Another public apology was delivered after the verdict.

“It’s much easier to say you’re sorry than to actually be sorry,” Randall said.

“Because if you’re truly sorry, you might have to pay compensation, or you might have to have your institution critically scrutinized from outside and you might have to make huge changes – you might actually have to change the culture.”

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