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London police didn’t give committee documents related to alleged assault after Hockey Canada event

London Police - CTV London

An independent committee created to review all sexual assault complaints received by the London Police Service that don’t lead to charges has not been provided case files related to an alleged 2018 sexual assault involving eight former Canadian Hockey League players after a Hockey Canada event in the city, the head of the committee told TSN.

Jane McGregor, who is chair of the London police’s third-party Violence Against Women Advocate Case Review Program, said in an interview on Monday that she didn’t pursue an explanation from police about why the case was not provide to her committee.

“I can’t say why they didn’t give the case file to us,” McGregor said. “I talked to the police about it, and they said they were reopening their investigation, but I have not come out and directly asked the police what happened. I don’t know why I haven’t… I think we pick our battles, and our relationship with the London police has really improved.

“Do London police need to do a better job? Absolutely… But this is so much bigger. Their resources are stretched. They don't have enough folks in the sexual assault unit. And if you look at their domestic violence and intimate partner violence unit, it's astounding the lack of resources that they have.”

TSN reported in May that a woman had settled a lawsuit against Hockey Canada and the CHL in which she alleged she had been sexually assaulted by eight former CHL players following a Hockey Canada gala in London in June 2018.

The woman, who is identified in court documents as “E.M.,” filed a criminal complaint and provided police with pictures and text messages related to her alleged attack, her lawyer has said.

London police have said they decided to close “E.M.”’s case file without filing charges in February 2019 before reopening the investigation on July 22. “E.M.” took a polygraph test, which was found to be truthful and met with London police in late July, her lawyer Rob Talach said in a statement on Aug. 2.

A London police spokesperson declined to say why documents related to the case were not provided to the volunteer civilian committee after the case was initially closed in February 2019.

“As this is an active investigation, we are unable to speak further to the matter,” Const. Sandasha Bough wrote in a statement to TSN. “Appropriate information will be shared once the investigation has concluded…. We do not have an anticipated timeline…”

Defence lawyer Calvin Barry, a Crown attorney in Toronto from 1983 to 2004, said it’s not unusual that London police have not updated the public on the case more than four months after reopening the investigation.

Barry, who has no involvement in the London case, said he recently worked on a case in Bracebridge, Ont., where an alleged sexual assault victim asked for police to re-investigate her case after it was closed with no charges. The Ontario Provincial Police brought in an officer from another detachment to work on the case as a “fresh set of outside eyes,” he said. Charges in that case were laid more than a year after the case was reopened.

“Maybe London police have brought in police from another force to help for the same reason and they aren’t talking publicly about it,” Barry said. “It’s also possible they are doing more forensic tests.”

Barry said the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto, which he said performs testing for all police forces in Ontario, has struggled with a months-long backlog since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several members of the committee have acknowledged in interviews with TSN that the decision by London police not to provide documents related to the hockey case to the committee may negatively affect the public trust in the police and raise questions about whether other case files have also not been provided to the committee.

“There is a concern because when women decide to report a sexual assault, they know there is a good chance they will be entrenched in justice process for a long time,” said Jenn Dunn, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre. “It’s concerning if some may not report their cases if they think the system isn’t working.”

The committee was formed after The Globe and Mail reported in February 2017 that the London police had one of Canada’s highest rates of ruling sexual assault complaints to be unfounded, a law enforcement term for a baseless allegation or when a criminal charge isn’t warranted.

A March 26, 2018, memorandum of understanding between the LPS and the case review committee explains the terms of their agreement.

“The purpose of the VAW Review Program,” the agreement says, “is to ensure ‘best practice’ responses to sexual assault reports involving adult complainants and suspects; improve the effectiveness of the investigative process; assist with the apprehension of offenders; provide the proper level of service and respect to sexual assault complainants and enhance their trust in the investigative process; promote open communication and cooperation between the LPS and advocate agencies; and improve the transparency of LPS sexual assault investigations.”

Members of the committee include officials with the London Abused Women’s Centre, Carrefour des Femmes du Sud-Ouest de l’Ontario, the Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration, and Atlohsa Family Healing Services Inc.

According to the agreement, the committee is supposed to receive material, including occurrence reports, victim and witness statements, audio/video records of victim, witness and alleged offender interviews, arrest reports with list of criminal charges, medical information, and any documentary, physical, photo, video or electronic evidence yielded from police investigations of sexual assault complaints that do not result in charges.

Police will receive recommendations and observations from the committee on subjects such as procedural steps, evidentiary issues, victim interview issues, and overall quality of investigations, the agreement says. Police and committee members are supposed to review sexual assault investigative files every three months.

“In advance of the scheduled review sessions, the LPS will compile all police records pertaining to the following sexual assault reports: All sexual assault reports where charges were not laid, including where the LPS investigators classified the report as unfounded,” the agreement says.