RCMP say no disciplinary action will be taken against two members at the heart of an incident in which officers were said to have locked up a Yellowknife sexual assault victim.
The incident took place behind Yellowknife's cinema last year. The female victim, who was intoxicated at the time, was taken to RCMP cells – prompting a judge to express shock at her treatment. Her attacker was sentenced on Thursday.
Police said locking up a victim was "sometimes the only option" if someone is under an influence or unable to look after themselves.
"We recognize that victims do not belong in jail. However, we must also ensure their safety, and sometimes cells is the only option," said Inspector Alex Laporte, officer in charge of the Yellowknife RCMP detachment.
"We are doing everything we can to create an environment where a sexual assault victim is cared for with the least amount of additional trauma."
Police said support services in Yellowknife are improving significantly, providing more options for people in a similar situation in future.
"We have reinforced to our officers, to look for all options to ensure the safety of victims," RCMP stated.
'Police should explain'
In remarks on August 9, Judge Garth Malakoe – presiding over a case in which a woman was sexually assaulted outside Yellowknife’s cinema last year – expressed horror at the apparent treatment of the victim by RCMP officers.
“The police received a call for service that a woman was being raped. The police arrived to find the woman, a street person, lying on the ground. She was intoxicated and uncooperative," said Malakoe at the time.
“The woman was not taken to the hospital for a rape kit or for a physical examination. Instead, she was arrested under the Liquor Act. She was held in cells overnight.
“This treatment is an issue that should be examined and the police should have to explain."
After Cabin Radio first reported this story, RCMP pledged to review what happened.
On Thursday, police issued a statement immediately following the sentencing hearing of Wade Kapakatoak, who pleaded guilty to sexual assault in the case. Kapakatoak will serve a sentence of two years less one day, followed by a one-year probation period.
The victim's identity is not public.
"A review of this file was begun and has been completed," the RCMP statement read.
"As a result of the file review, no disciplinary measures were taken. However, areas for improvement were identified."
Police said details of the file would not be shared out of respect for the victim, and acknowledged their duty to "provide a safe space" for victims of crime.
'Not the best solution'
In explaining why no disciplinary action was felt necessary, RCMP said in their statement: "Officers who interact with these persons often have to make decisions on what type of care is available and how to access, and how to keep them safe.
"If a person is under an influence, or the police have a concern for their safety and ability to care for themselves, the options are limited. While it is not the best solution, the cell environment is sometimes the only option available in the circumstances.
"This action ensures the safety of the person and may prevent further occurrence or victimization. There they are safe, warm and are continually monitored by staff. Our members work diligently to explore other options, and engage support partners in providing the services."
Police said they were legally unable to take a possible sexual assault victim to hospital without the victim's consent for an examination related to sexual assault to take place.
"This is continuously monitored in the time they are in our care, should a victim change their mind in relation to consent to sexual assault examination. This has been reinforced with our officers," the RCMP statement read.
RCMP said training for sexual assault investigations has also been strengthened and increased across Canada.
“The landscape in Yellowknife has changed quite significantly with support services being offered," Laporte continued. "The social support initiatives now available fill a gap which existed for some time, providing officers more choices for some of the more vulnerable persons.
"We continue to learn from our interactions with victims and members of the public. We continually strive to improve the options available for care for our more vulnerable. We will continue to work closely with our partner agencies in providing care services for the community."