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London police asked to explain why 254 sex-assault reports didn't lead to charges

A London police cruiser sits is shown in London, Ont., on Friday, May 30, 2014. The oversight body for London, Ont., police is asking the force to explain why roughly 40 per cent of sexual-assault reports filed last year did not lead to charges. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

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 roughly 40 per cent of sexual-assault reports it received last year did not lead to charges. 

A report presented to the London Police Services Board at its monthly meeting shows there were 587 reported sexual assaults in 2023, up three per cent from the previous year. Some of the incidents reported may have taken place before 2023.

Of those, the report says 254 did not lead to charges and are thus subject to review by the violence against women advocate case review program.

The program refers sexual-assault investigations that don't lead to charges to an independent committee of front-line community experts, who reviews them to help ensure cases aren't being inappropriately closed.

The board asked police to return with information on why those cases did not lead to charges and to provide that information with future reports.

"I think it's important that there be context to this," said the board's vice-chair, Megan Walker, who initiated the request. 

"Otherwise, people may look at this and say, 'Oh, my god, all those women had the courage to come forward and look, they didn't even lay 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 the London police service continues to face questions regarding its investigation into allegations of sexual assault 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 soon 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 is also facing an additional charge of sexual assault for “being a party to the offence."

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

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

Police also said they could not comment on why the case wasn't referred to the violence against women advocate case review program after the investigation was closed. They said the committee cannot review the case now due to the court process.

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

In that same period, the number of cases that did not lead to charges has ranged from 38 to 48 per cent, with an average of 43 per cent, the document says.

Eighteen per cent of the cases eligible for review were examined in 2019, the year the committee was launched, before its work was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the report says.

In 2022 and 2023, the rates of review went up to 78 and 77 per cent, respectively, it says.

In presenting the report Wednesday, London police's Deputy Chief Paul Bastien said the committee is addressing the backlog.

The sharp rise in review rates after the pandemic "gives us some confidence that that oversight piece is being performed to the benefit ... of our ability to investigate and be transparent," he told the board.

Walker, the board's vice-chair, said more clarity on the case review program would also be helpful.

"Over the past month or so, with (the) Hockey Canada (case), we've had a lot of questions around, you know, why there were no case reviews over a certain period of time ... and where we're at now and what is the catch-up time," she 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.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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