London police asked to explain why 254 reports of sexual assault did not lead to charges

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

Published on Wednesday, February 14, 2024 4:09 pm EST

Last updated Wednesday February 14, 2024 4:58 pm EST

The oversight body for a southwestern Ontario police service under scrutiny for its handling of a high-profile sexual assault investigation asked the force Wednesday to explain why about 40 per cent of the sexual assault reports it received last year they did not lead to charges.

A report presented to the London Police Services Board at its monthly meeting shows that 587 sexual assaults were reported in 2023, three per cent more than the previous year. Some of the reported incidents may have occurred before 2023.

Of those, the report says 254 did not result in charges and are therefore subject to review by the Violence Against Women Advocates Case Review Program.

The program refers sexual assault investigations that do not lead to charges to an independent committee of frontline community experts, who review them to help ensure cases are not inappropriately closed.

The board asked police to come back with information about why those cases did not result in charges and to provide that information in future reports.

“I think it’s important that there is context for this,” said board Vice President Megan Walker, who initiated the request.

“Otherwise people can look at this and say, ‘Oh my God, all those women had the courage to come forward and watch, they didn’t even press charges.'”

The board also asked for a more detailed explanation of the violence against women advocate case review program and its operations.

The report comes as London’s police service continues to face questions about its investigation into sexual assault allegations against five then-members of Canada’s world junior hockey team.

The allegations relate to an incident at a London hotel in June 2018 after an event celebrating the team’s gold medal victory. The incident was reported to police shortly after, but the investigation was initially closed without charges in 2019. It was then reopened in 2022.

Dillon Dube, Carter Hart, Michael McLeod, Cal Foote and Alex Formenton were charged with sexual assault last month. McLeod also faces an additional charge of sexual assault for “being a party to the crime.”

Lawyers for the players have said their clients would defend themselves against the allegations.

At a news conference earlier this month, Chief Thai Truong apologized to the complainant for the delay in filing charges, but declined to say what caused it, citing the ongoing court case.

Police also said they could not comment on why the case was not referred to the violence against women advocates case review program after the investigation was closed. They said the committee cannot review the case now because of the court process.

The report presented to the police board on Wednesday shows that the number of sexual assaults reported to London police since 2019 has increased year on year at rates of between three and 22 per cent.

In that same period, the number of cases that did not result in charges ranged from 38 to 48 percent, with an average of 43 percent, the document says.

18 percent of cases eligible for review were examined in 2019, the year the committee was created, before its work was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report.

In 2022 and 2023, revision rates increased to 78 and 77 percent, respectively, it says.

Presenting the report Wednesday, London Police Deputy Chief Paul Bastien said the committee is addressing the backlog.

The sharp increase in review rates after the pandemic “gives us some confidence that that oversight part is being done to the benefit … of our ability to investigate and be transparent,” he told the board.

Walker, the board’s vice president, said it would also be helpful to have more clarity about the case review program.

“Over the last month, with (the) Hockey Canada (case), we’ve had a lot of questions about, you know, why there were no case reviews for a certain period of time… and where we are. “We’re in this moment and what’s the time to catch up,” he said.

“I think it would be great for us to have answers to these questions.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2024.

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