RCMP are reviewing an incident in which officers are said to have locked up a Yellowknife sexual assault victim.

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 two RCMP officers.

In remarks dated August 9, Judge Malakoe said police “should have to explain” why the victim – who cannot be identified under a publication ban – was, according to court testimony, arrested and held in a cell overnight.

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He wrote: “Let me briefly pause and comment on how the victim was treated in this case. I am tempering my comments because all of the parties involved have not been given an opportunity to present their side of the story. However, on the face of it, this is what it looks like … given the evidence presented in court.

“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. The witness who called the police was there to tell them what he saw. He told the police that the woman said she had been raped.

“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.”

In full: Judge Malakoe’s reasons for decision in the case

Judge Malakoe continued: “I am unable to imagine circumstances which would justify this type of treatment of a victim of sexual assault.

“This treatment is an issue that should be examined and the police should have to explain.”

Policy and training review

Wade Kapakatoak pleaded guilty to sexual assault and will be sentenced in October.

The judge rejected prosecutors’ submission that Kapakatoak raped the victim as, while a witness stated the woman told him she was being raped during the assault, evidence from surveillance cameras did not appear to support the detail of the prosecution’s claim.

Following publication of the judge’s remarks, Cabin Radio asked RCMP to explain why an apparent sexual assault victim, regardless of their intoxication, would be locked up by police in any circumstance.

RCMP declined an interview, instead responding on Wednesday with a detailed written statement. Police said they would ‘limit’ comment on the specific case until Kapakatoak’s sentencing concludes.

“I can confirm that we are aware of the Judge’s comments regarding the RCMP’s actions in this matter,” wrote Cst Matt Halstead by email.

“We are reviewing the case and have requested a copy of the transcript in order to confirm what information was provided to the courts. We noted the Judge tempered his comments because ‘all of the parties involved have not been given an opportunity to present their side of the story.’

“Our review is looking at how we applied our policy and training, the totality of the circumstance (what was known by responding officers, police authorities, medical assessment, etc). We will also be looking at our interactions with the victim during and after and any support services offered.”

‘No dignity’

Halstead acknowledged in his statement that sexual assault “has traumatic and long-lasting effects on victims.”

He added: “A poor experience with police investigators can bring more trauma to victims, and discourage others from reporting these crimes. The RCMP is committed to improving how its employees respond to victims and investigate allegations of sexual assault.

“The RCMP is taking action to strengthen police training and awareness, investigative accountability, victim support, and public education and communication.

“I am confident that after we have had the opportunity to complete our review, we will be in a better position to respond.”

Cabin Radio will follow up with police on completion of that review.

Continuing his own written remarks, Judge Malakoe questioned whether police actions were responsible for the victim failing to appear during Kapakatoak’s trial. She could not be located.

“Ultimately, if the victim is avoiding this trial as a result of this treatment, then her treatment by the police has affected the judicial process,” said Malakoe.

“However, at a more basic societal level, it appears the victim was not treated with the dignity and compassion that she or any victim of a sexual assault deserves.

“On the face of it, the treatment by the police of the victim was egregious.”