In the last few days, politicians, political pundits and radio and television personalities have been sending themselves into a tizzy, into another anti-police feeding frenzy. The water has been chummed this time by a videotape resurrected from a 2012 criminal case which captured an interview between a police officer and a 17 year old female held in an interview room in the West Kelowna RCMP detachment.
It was not dug up by intrepid reporting, Global News had the videotape sent to them. Now, the edited version has been virally shared, with Global News direly warning for those softened listeners, that it is “hard to listen to”; no doubt in an attempt to draw in more viewers as it is like saying “look away there is a car accident”.
It took hold and it has now been called “abhorrent” by our illustrious Ralph Goodale, the Minister of Public Safety, whose opinion blows in the political wind incessantly, shifting with any voter high pressure system.
My favourite Judge, Marion Buller said that the interview put on display “racist stereotypes of Indigenous women” and it rose out of the “historical tension” due to residential schools. Keep in mind that Buller finds all that ails Canada and the indigenous can be summed up in the residential schools.
Jenna Forbes of the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society was “outraged” and asked whether this type of questioning was “part of policy”.
On Simi Sara’s talk show on CKNW, which is affiliated with Global News –in her best holier than thou voice proclaimed that this was “unacceptable” and questioned whether the officer involved had been “fired” for such an atrocious breech of the public standards. Of course she was echoing and re-enforcing the prevailing wisdom spewing forth from the usual go-to for comment “experts”. Thirty second encapsulations bounced around the internet and across Canada, each indignant voice louder than the first, all calling for the head of the officer involved.
The new E Division Commanding Officer finally feeling the pressure weighed in on the video; announcing a “fulsome review”; and throwing a little pre-judgement in for good measure, “on the surface this case doesn’t appear to align with public expectations or the current standards and practises in place”.
Clearly she was making an attempt to say that was the way then, way back in 2012, but now, things are better.
In this more aware year of 2019, the RCMP , according to the Commanding Officer was now “supporting victims”, and members were being exposed to a “course recently updated”. The strategic spin doctors of the RCMP went further commenting that they were advancing “cultural competency training…trauma informed investigations and an advanced course for sexual assault investigation”.
The cultural reference was because all commentators noted in their reporting that the female victim was “indigenous”, intentionally putting a match to spark the gas line of indigenous reconciliation outrage.
Experts ran to the flame, braying about another example of the police being incapable of understanding their culture, just another example of the ill effects of colonialism.
The officer involved no doubt could not have felt more alone.
In viewing the video, nothing will get around the fact that the officer asked inappropriate questions. That is apparent and should never have happened, the questioning of whether she was “turned on by it at all” showed a glaring lack of knowledge of the nature of sexual assault.
However, if you examine the circumstances, it may be in-appropriate and completely unfair to rush to such a harsh judgement. The commentary on this subject comes from those that have never been in that interview room, let alone investigated any sexual assaults.
Some of the questions and the perceptions that arise from this videotape need to be looked at through an investigators lens.
First, this videotape did not surface as a result of a complaint coming forward from the female, or some representative of her about the investigation or the lack of charges. One should always be somewhat suspect about the release of information which may aid someone in their particular cause or pursuit.
It is the result of a civil suit, totally unrelated to the crime of sexual assault.
It is part of the evidence that surfaced as a result of an investigation into a social worker in 2012, Robert Riley Saunders. It was alleged that Saunders stole monies from some teens, including the female in the video; monies that were forwarded to them through the Ministry over a four year period totalling $40,000.00. Basically he was taking monies from vulnerable clients and putting it in his own bank account.
The female youth victim, one of a dozen, was forced, according to the civil claim, to living on the streets and into a life of drug addiction using meth, crack, cocaine, and MDMA.
On March 4, 2012 the female youth then made allegations of a sexual assault. The two defendants in the civil case, (as by now another female social worker was named as a defendant), countered, along with the girl’s foster parents, saying that the female victim was “falsifying the allegations for an excuse for using drugs”.
We also learn that this same female victim alleges that she was sexually assaulted by her grandfather earlier in life. She makes reference to it during the videotape. She says on the tape, “nobody believed me then and nobody believes me now”.
The officer responded, “I have reason to believe what happened in your past, but I do have a lot of concerns about your story here”. Earlier the officer, had said that he wants to probe “inconsistencies in her story”. No doubt some of that concern centred around the fact that the victim said she “didn’t not say no” to the alleged assailant throughout the assault. It should also be pointed out that she was making this allegation against an “acquaintance”.
This of course is possible as she said she was “scared” but some further layering of the explanation was needed.
All this is to say is that regardless of who is telling the truth in this case, what had been raised was a possible alternate story, a possibility that there was some fabrication on the part of the victim. To an investigator tasked with getting to the truth, you are now in a position where one must consider a couple of different narratives. Therefore that has to form part of your questioning of the victim. As a truth seeker any investigator can not have a tunnel version of the truth, one needs to walk the middle road, consider all possibilities.
There are some in this current political environment who believe that there is no such thing as a made up sexual allegation. This blogger is not one of them and has been involved in a number of investigations where some allegations were clearly false and were eventually proven to be in fact pure fiction. This goes counter to the #metoo movement and the left leaning liberals which constantly assert that no woman is capable of lying under these circumstances. That is just factually incorrect, regardless of how acceptable that dogma has become.
So this particular investigator, under these circumstances, has to consider that this particular female, who was living a street level existence and addicted to drugs, could possibly have an alternate reason for coming forward with this story.
One should also note that this female, in the days or months following this interview, wrote a letter of apology to the accused and the RCMP for making this sexual assault investigation.
Of course, it is now being claimed that she was “allegedly forced by her social worker to write letters of apology to the accused man and the RCMP for wasting their time”.
The female victim, now no doubt re-enforced with a lawyer and a civil claim now says that she has been “re-traumatized after watching the video”.
Again, this too could be true, but there is a great deal of evidence which this investigator could not ignore in terms of the line of questioning.
Secondly. The interview and the way it was conducted had absolutely nothing to do with this female victim being indigenous. Listen to the videotape and if anyone can find anything suggesting that this interviewer was being racist, or that some line of questioning would lead one to this conclusion, they need to step forward and point to it.
What critiques are doing is implying that the line of questioning is the result of her being indigenous, not understanding that this line of questioning would occur, and should occur if an investigator is divining the truth no matter who the witness may be. The wording of some of his questions can be criticized, the intent of his questioning should not be characterized as racist.
If a victim or witness or suspect has raised a different set of facts than that has to be explored. An investigator or an interviewer should be criticized for not exploring these and all venues, but the exploring or questioning easily leads to criticism in the techniques used by the arm chair quarterbacks.
Hopefully the police have not reached a stage in this country during an investigation when they can be told that there must be wholesale acceptance of everything being put forward. Remember, it has been said, “it is a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only variable is about what.”
There are also some questions that need to be explored about the time leading up to the conduct of this interview and of the logistics surrounding the taking of this statement.
For instance, was there someone monitoring this interview as is the usual protocol?
Was this investigator ever given instruction on interviewing techniques?
How many interviews of this ilk had he ever done? What level of supervision was given with regard to the conduct of the interview?
The RCMP management can talk about sexual assault investigator courses. But was this particular officer ever on one? Quite often those types of courses go to the specialized units, and the general duty cop is the last on the list for such specialization.
There has been a lot of questioning of why there was no female present acting on behalf or as support? One must remember that this person is a witness, a victim witness, she is not a suspect. Her story could be suspect, but she is not being treated as a victim in these circumstances, therefore there is no legal need for someone to be present.
Police also try to avoid having more than one person in a room for a witness interview, for fear of interference, or coaching. If she wanted someone there and had asked for it, it is likely that she would have had that choice if it would help her in feeling secure. But this would not be likely at the age of 17. If she had been under investigation for possible charges, then the rules would be entirely different.
So should the officer have worded his questions differently? Of course, the questions showed a lack of knowledge, not evil intent.
The ability to talk to people, to interview, is an art, learned over time and through repetition. You need to go “into the room” to get proficient. It takes years to be both a listener and a talker– especially when that person may be trying to deceive. Some say the skill is being lost in the millennial generation, dominated by the land of laptops, a growing perception that interviewing is a specialized skill that warrants specialists and special training. That is not the case, it requires a willingness to enter the interview room and run the risk of being fooled, maybe hundreds of times, and those that do should not be chastised by the 20/20 hindsights of the courts and the academics. Some would argue that it is the greatest skill needed by a police officer.
No doubt this officer will get some sort of discipline letter, but if that is the case, let’s give one to his Supervisor and on up the line.
To debase and libel this investigator as being racist is completely unfair and one would hope that it would be actionable.
And while you’re at it let’s give the likes of Marion Buller, and Jenna Forbes a ride in a police car for a couple of shifts, and let them do some interviews.
And as they enter that drab room at 2 o’clock in the morning, tired, and having to perform on camera for later court scrutiny– give them a hint…. not everybody tells the truth to the police.
Photo Courtesy of James Cridland via Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved