Pilot project will review sexual assault cases in seven Canadian cities

CANADA—A new pilot project, the Violence Against Women (VAW) Advocate Case Review Project, will review police cases involving sexual assault and intimate partner violence in seven cities across Canada, cases that have been dormant and deemed ‘unfounded’ or ‘baseless.’

“Manitoulin Family Resources and the members of the Mnidoo Mnising Coalition Against Domestic Violence have been following the case reviews of sexual assault investigations and the announcement of related pilot projects closely,” said Manitoulin Family Resources Executive Director Marnie Hall Brown. “While similar reviews are not currently planned at a local level, all members of the coalition recognize the lessons that we can learn from these reviews which will only enhance how we attempt to provide services locally. Currently our goals include updated  police training, focusing on best practices, in domestic violence and sexual assault cases, as well as ongoing advocacy and attempts for funding to secure a local and accessible forensic gathering unit that would also link victims to local and immediate necessary services. Manitoulin Family Resources is in a rather unique position of offering the diverse VAW services that would be shared by several agencies in other regions, while interacting with five distinct police services to do so. What we have learned locally is the importance of having highly skilled professionals, from police to social services to Crown prosecution, in order to create a network of support for the victim who takes the risk of coming forward. We can’t control the legal outcome, but we can influence the support that victim receives along the way.”

The Ottawa Coalition To End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW) announced last week that its project, in partnership with the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre, the Violence Against Women Advocate Case Review Project, would be receiving $399,500 in funding from the Status of Women Canada (SOWC) to adapt the Philadelphia Model to the Canadian context and pilot it at seven cities across Canada including Ottawa, Timmins, Stratford, Kingston, Peterborough, London and Calgary.

“The new case review project is the first of its kind in Canada, with front-line survivor support workers, violence against women and legal experts reviewing police cases involving sexual and intimate partner violence,” states a press release from the OCTEVAW.

“Communities and police at our pilot sites have made an historic commitment to work together to strengthen accountability and transparency—improving police response to survivors when they report sexual and intimate partner violence,” commented OCTEVAW Executive Director Carrolyn Johnston. “This is an important element in a broader movement to end violence against women and gender-based violence, including prevention, education and support for survivors.”

As well, over 15 other cities have expressed interest in conducting their own pilot projects.

The Philadelphia Case Review Model system was prompted by an investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer which revealed police in the city were dismissing a high number of sexual assault complains as unfounded. It was first used in the US in 2000.

Earlier this year, the Globe and Mail launched an extensive investigation into how Canadian police handle sexual-assault allegations, specifically why police dismiss one out of every five sexual assault claims as unfounded, gathering data from over 870 police forces. Through their investigation, they found numerous inconsistencies  in how many cases are closed as ‘unfounded’ or ‘baseless.’

This prompted the government and law enforcement to come forward, promising to improve how sexual assault cases are handled. Since the Unfounded (the name the Globe and Mail gave to its series of reports) investigation, more than 50 police forces have announced their own investigations into sexual-assault cases that were previously deemed ‘unfounded.’

This includes the OPP, which launched a seven-month review of 4,000 ‘unfounded’ reports across the province.

The federal SOWC announced in June of this year $100.9 million for the first federal strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence.

Fifty projects have been approved for over $18 million in ‘Funding to Advance Gender Equality,’ including the Violence Against Women Advocate Case Review Project.

“Over the course of 36-months, the projects will address systemic barriers in Status of Women Canada’s three areas of focus: increasing women’s economic security and prosperity, encouraging women and girls in leadership and decision-making roles, and ending violence against women and girls,” states a press release from the SOWC. “The Canadian Women’s Foundation will facilitate a pan-Canadian network of women leaders to support feminist action for gender equality at the national level. These leaders have been chosen for their remarkable efforts at the local level to realize tangible advancements in supporting and empowering women, girls and gender non-conforming people. By creating a network of visionary women we will broaden the reach of their efforts beyond their communities – inspiring others from across the country to add their voices and contribute their ideas towards achieving real progress.”