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RCMP withholding records in historic child sexual assault investigation, survivor and lawyer say

When Jamie was 11, she reported being sexually assaulted by a family member to police and was interviewed by West Shore RCMP in Greater Victoria. Now 29, she and her lawyer have been asking for records of that investigation for nearly two years, but have not received them from the RCMP's ATIP department. (Brishti Basu/CBC  - image credit)
When Jamie was 11, she reported being sexually assaulted by a family member to police and was interviewed by West Shore RCMP in Greater Victoria. Now 29, she and her lawyer have been asking for records of that investigation for nearly two years, but have not received them from the RCMP's ATIP department. (Brishti Basu/CBC - image credit)

Warning: This article contains details of child sexual abuse and may be distressing. 

Jamie, 29, doesn't remember a lot of what the RCMP officer said when she, as an 11-year-old child, went to report her stepfather sexually assaulting her, but she remembers how she felt: scared, uncomfortable, and like they did not believe her.

"It was kind of a horrible experience. I felt like I was being interrogated," she said, thinking back to 2006, when she says she was questioned alone in a room by a West Shore RCMP officer in a Greater Victoria detachment.

"It almost seemed like they were annoyed to have to interview me. I remember feeling like … I just need to get through this and get away."

Jamie said she never revealed to police the full extent of the abuse she said she endured between the ages of nine and 11. Her stepfather was never charged with sexual assault and Jamie believes he was not properly investigated for the crime she reported: touching her vagina.

Now, as an adult, Jamie is looking for answers and accountability. CBC News is not using her real name due to the sexual assault she describes when she was a minor.

With the help of Vancouver law firm Kazlaw Injury and Trauma Lawyers, she has been requesting a record of all files about her own case — which she said includes a recording of the interview between herself as an 11-year-old and the RCMP officer — through the police's Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) branch since March 2022.

She still has not received them.

"They didn't do anything about [the police report] and on top of that, they won't even give me my own story back from that time,” Jamie said, referring to RCMP's near two-year delay in sharing files about her sexual assault report.
"They didn't do anything about [the police report] and on top of that, they won't even give me my own story back from that time,” Jamie said, referring to RCMP's near two-year delay in sharing files about her sexual assault report.

'They didn't do anything about [the police report] and on top of that, they won't even give me my own story back from that time,' Jamie said, referring to RCMP's nearly two-year delay in sharing files about her sexual assault report. (Brishti Basu/CBC)

Seeking answers now

ATIP law requires RCMP to hand over requested documents within 30 days; extensions can be granted for "limited and specific reasons."

In the nearly two years since this record request was made, multiple email follow-ups with RCMP's ATIP branch, reviewed by CBC News, show a privacy officer in Ottawa telling Jamie's lawyer that the request was "being processed," "pending review" or, as of October 2022, could have been "purged."

But by then, the ATIP branch already had the files about Jamie's report of sexual assault, according to West Shore RCMP spokesperson Cst. Nancy Saggar. She said the detachment received the request from the ATIP branch in August 2022 — five months after Jamie's request was filed — and forwarded the files to the ATIP branch the same day.

"I can tell you West Shore RCMP was compliant in fulfilling the request," Saggar wrote in an email to CBC. "Our procedure is we send the requested information back to ATIP and they proceed with sharing it with the requester (in this case the law firm representing the victim)."

The RCMP's ATIP department had several days to respond to CBC's questions and did not.

Emails from the RCMP ATIP branch show the department claims the requested records could have 'met the purge date,' and eight months later in June 2023, say the file is 'still pending review.' West Shore RCMP said they had handed the record to the ATIP branch by August 2022.
Emails from the RCMP ATIP branch show the department claims the requested records could have 'met the purge date,' and eight months later in June 2023, say the file is 'still pending review.' West Shore RCMP said they had handed the record to the ATIP branch by August 2022.

Emails from the RCMP ATIP branch show the department claims the requested records could have 'met the purge date,' and eight months later in June 2023, say the file is 'still pending review.' West Shore RCMP said they had handed the record to the ATIP branch by August 2022. (Brishti Basu/CBC)

Jamie said her experiences with adults and authority at the time kept her from seeking answers until, as an adult, she came across other examples of sexual assault survivors speaking out about their experiences.

She said the #MeToo movement and the Globe and Mail's 20-month long Unfounded investigation — which in 2017 uncovered how 20 per cent of all sexual assault investigations were dismissed as baseless by police in Canada — inspired her to start seeking answers for herself.

Then, in December, the Times Colonist, a Victoria newspaper, detailed the schoolyard sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl by five boys in 2021, and investigated how school and police handled the case. The story was familiar to Jamie and her experience with RCMP 15 years prior, she said.

"Seeing that made me think, wow, this is obviously happening to other people and if I don't do anything it's never going to change," Jamie said.

The abuse

The abuse started, Jamie says, when she was nine years old and a lonely child who craved adult attention. So, she was happy when her stepfather started asking her to watch television with him alone in his room.

At first, she said he would cuddle her, but soon began kissing and touching her breasts and genitals over and under her clothes. Years later, as an adult, Jamie said she realized that he had been grooming her.

"At this time I had a feeling that it was wrong because it wasn't something that he ever spoke about to other people," Jamie said. But at the same time, "I felt like maybe he really liked me and I'd always just had a bad relationship with my mom that made me feel not very good about myself, so [he] made me feel special."

Things got worse one night, when Jamie, still nine years old, encountered her stepfather while getting a glass of water from the kitchen and he insisted on giving her a back massage.

"I just said to him like, no, no, it's okay. I'm okay. But I remember he really insisted," Jamie said. "I was laying on my stomach, he turned me over onto my back and pulled my pyjamas off."

That was the first time Jamie said her stepfather raped her.

The abuse continued for two years, she said — in the family home and on their boat, while her mother was nearby — until she asked to move in with her father.

CBC News attempted to contact the stepfather, who is estranged from Jamie and no longer lives in B.C., but he could not be reached.

Jamie says, at the time, family members told her he denied touching her.

While living with her father, Jamie says she let slip an incident in which her stepfather had touched her vagina, which she said prompted her father to take her to the RCMP.

Jamie's best friend at the time, who is the same age, remembers Jamie telling her about the experience with police.

"She didn't want to press charges at first because she was worried about what her mom and [her stepfather] would say and do, but then she decided to go to the police," the friend said. CBC News is not identifying her to protect Jamie's identity.

"I remember her telling me that she went to do it and then, it was weird, it was almost like they scared her out of doing it."

Survivors need access to justice, says lawyer

There are at least three times that West Shore RCMP was made aware of Jamie's sexual assault allegations against her stepfather, according to file numbers the RCMP has confirmed.

The first report was in 2006 when Jamie reported an assault to police; the second was in 2009 when Jamie said an officer had called her on the phone asking about a sexual assault allegation about her stepfather she had made to her friend; the third, in 2020 when Jamie called the detachment asking about the investigation and telling them her stepfather had done worse to her when she was a child than the touching she originally reported.

According to Saggar, all three files are sexual assault investigations considered "historical reports" made "over a year after the alleged assault occurred." Jamie said the report she made in 2006 was within a year of the last incident.

Saggar said she cannot answer questions about the investigations, "including if a suspect was interviewed or not."

"There is no statute of limitations on the reporting of sexual offences in Canada, we will always accept the report and investigate accordingly," Saggar wrote. "However, delays in reporting do present investigation challenges for police, as oftentimes it means there is none or very little physical evidence to collect etc."

That feels like something else that they're taking from me because they didn't do anything about [the report] and on top of that, they won't even give me my own story back. - Jamie, 29, who reported a sexual assault to RCMP when she was 11

Jamie said she does not have faith that the criminal justice system would bring accountability to the man she says raped her repeatedly between the ages of nine and 11.

So, in 2022, Jamie turned to the civil litigation system.

Sandra Kovacs, a lawyer representing Jamie, said in the last three years, 95 per cent of her practice has dealt with historical sexual abuse and involves police ATIP requests. But this is the first time she has had to complain about late records to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC), which enforces federal privacy laws.

"Eventually I usually get the records so I was trying to be as patient as possible for as long as I possibly could," Kovacs said. "We had to do something because literally, it's been almost two years since the request was made and we don't have the file."

According to the OPC's most recent annual report, more than half of all complaints about the Privacy Act in 2022-23 were about delays to ATIP requests.

Kovacs and Jamie both call for police to have a more trauma-informed approach to interviewing sexual assault survivors, particularly children, in order for them to fully articulate what happened to them.

Sandra Kovacs
Sandra Kovacs

Lawyer Sandra Kovacs handles many cases of historical sexual abuse and says this is the first time she has had to complaint to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to get RCMP to release records. (Kazlaw.ca)

"My experience working with survivors is that when they're finally ready to move forward and seek access to justice, it's a critical moment," Kovacs said. "If access to justice is delayed, it can be psychologically harmful, and aggravate the harm that they've already experienced."

According to Saggar, victim services and the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development services were available to Jamie when she first reported the incident in 2006. According to Jamie, no one contacted her.

Now, Jamie said, being denied access to files about her own police report adds to the trauma she has already experienced.

"That feels like something else that they're taking from me because they didn't do anything about [the report] and on top of that, they won't even give me my own story back from that time," Jamie said.