Sexual violence experts urge Canadian police to adopt the Philadelphia Model

Sexual violence experts urge Canadian police to adopt the Philadelphia Model
Move would allow outside groups to review cases of cases deemed unfounded by law enforcement
Noah Richardson, April 2nd, 2017
Maryam Monsef's department is drawing up a new strategy to deal with violence against women. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

It’s called the Philadelphia Model and advocates and experts who deal with issues of violence against women say police forces across Canada need to follow its lead.

Recent media reports have shown that one in five sexual assault claims made in Canada have been deemed unfounded by police.

Advocates, however, believe many cases are not investigated properly, if at all. In Philadelphia, an investigation by the Inquirer newspaper, revealed that the police force there had downgraded thousands of rapes and other sex crimes to a non-criminal category for almost two decades.

As a result, a new policy was adopted in 2000 that permits the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, the city’s main child abuse support organization, and the Philadelphia rape crisis agency, to examine all sexual assault cases deemed unfounded by the force.

In Canada, a 20-month long Globe and Mail investigation examined data from about 870 police forces, including the OPP and the RCMP and found a similar cluster of unfounded cases. When a case is labelled unfounded, it means the investigating officer did not believe there was enough cause to pursue the complainant’s case.

The report prompted the Liberal government to commit to looking into the issue of unfounded cases, including having the RCMP review its unfounded case files.

The issue of unfounded sexual assault cases in Canada drew a public commitment from the Prime Minister, who has directed Maryam Monsef the minister for the Status of Women to turn her department’s focus to developing policies to protect victims of sexual violence. And Public Safety minister Ralph Goodale has begun building a new strategy dealing with how police departments deal with “gender-based violence” and will be releasing it in the “near future.”

It’s been a long wait for action, says Sunny Mariner, the executive director of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre. She said while she is pleased to hear the government speaking out about violence against women, she feels as though the concerns expressed by advocacy groups such as hers fall on deaf ears.

She pointed out that she’s been pressuring Canadian law enforcement to adopt the Philadelphia Model for years.

“While it’s heartening to hear people talking about reviews, internal reviews are not effective to deal with this issue,” Mariner said.

“We’re at a point where we’re ready to take some more proactive steps and measurable evidence-based steps to actually shine a continuous light on what’s happening with sexual assault investigations.”

Elizabeth Sheehy agrees the federal government needs to listen to the voices of women’s advocacy groups and that police forces should adopt the Philadelphia Model.

“The federal government is in a prime position to take leadership on that issue, and there is really no other model that can in any way move us forward in terms of improved policing for women’s victims of violence,” said Sheehy, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

“Sexual assault in all its forms is a devastating crime, and one that remains a constant priority for Canadian law enforcement,” said Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Goodale, in a statement. “No victim should fear that their case won’t be taken seriously by police. Our government recognizes that more must be done to keep women and girls in our country safe.”

Bardsley said Goodale has “raised this with the RCMP Commissioner directly and he has directed each region’s Commanding Officer to review past sex assault cases.”

While Marriner is encouraged by the federal government’s commitment to action, she remains cautious.

“My concern is that I don’t want us to have a moment in time where everybod

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