A petition calling for the Kelowna RCMP to implement a sexual assault investigation unit is making its way around the city.
The petition was organized by Heather Friesen and Aden Withers, two local rape survivors, following the publicizing of Statistics Canada data that showed Kelowna had an abnormally high number of unfounded sexual assault reports.
As first reported in the Kelowna Capital News on Oct. 25, Statistics Canada data shows the Kelowna RCMP classified almost 40 per cent of sexual assault reports as unfounded in 2018. That number is more than double the 15 per cent average across the province and dwarfs the under five per cent averages in Vancouver and Victoria.
The petition’s demands are as follows:
That in order to bring the number of sexual assault cases declared unfounded into line with the provincial average and improve the number of cases cleared (solved) the city council work with the Kelowna RCMP and:
- Approval of the $12 million budget proposal for 56 new RCMP officers by 2025
- That part of this increase will be used to form a Sexual Assault Team.
- That this team receive training specific to handling sexual assault cases AND interviewing survivors
- An Indigenous Advocate to work with RCMP dedicated sexual assault team
- That the City Council require the RCMP to have an advocate to be present when interviewing sexual assault survivors
Friesen said the implementation of an investigative group devoted to sexual assault cases would be a start to bringing Kelowna’s sexual assault statistics into line with the provincial and national averages.
“It’s a first step. I think it will improve (the stats) some,” she said. “I think it will help some survivors or some victims. I don’t know if it’ll do much but it’s better than nothing. I don’t know if it’ll make a difference but I have to try. I’ve reached a point where I have to do something productive and this feels productive.”
General duty RCMP officers are not equipped to deal with cases as sensitive and intricate as sexual assault, according to Friesen.
Several of the people Friesen spoke with while gathering signatures weren’t aware that Kelowna doesn’t have a sexual assault unit.
“People need to learn how our city runs,” she said. “Everyone’s like, ‘well what do you mean we don’t have one?’ Well, we don’t. And we need one.”
So far, the petition has been circulating for about a week but Friesen doesn’t have an exact number on how many have signed it as several people have taken copies to gather signatures on their own.
Currently, the petition is available to sign in Perc’s Place Coffee Shop in Orchard Park mall but Friesen said she’s looking for other businesses to get involved as well.
More information can be found at the Sexual Assault Unit Petition Information Facebook group where information on the petition’s progress and where to sign will be updated periodically.