A female police officer who was sexually assaulted by a male colleague has spent nearly three years being sidelined from her job – and says she is now being offered a few months’ salary to quit.
Denise Robinson, 38, says she was raped and then effectively dismissed because of it. She recently told a Quebec court that reporting the crime took “every ounce of courage” she could muster – but, in the end, she was “suspended” and “betrayed” by her police force.
For three years she had worked at patrolling Inuit communities in Quebec’s far north. But ever since she reported the February, 2010, sexual assault days after it happened, she has not worked or received a paycheque. At the same time, the police officer who assaulted her served only a brief suspension before being allowed to return to work for two years – until this past August, when he was sent to jail as a convicted criminal beginning an 18-month term.
For her part, Ms. Robinson feels sentenced to a life in limbo. Told to submit to a psychiatric assessment in the immediate aftermath of the assault, she and her employer have spent years locked in a standoff over the precise conditions under which she could return to work.
The Kativik Regional Police Force says it is holding out for proof she remains psychologically fit to work as a police officer. Ms. Robinson insists that is not the issue – for years she and her own psychologists have pressed the police force to facilitate a transfer so that she wouldn’t have had to face the prospect of working alongside her attacker.
The regional police force denies any wrongdoing. “Ms. Robinson was not suspended from her position,” spokeswoman Caroline D’Astous wrote in a short e-mailed reply to questions from The Globe. She added that Ms. Robinson technically remains an employee who “has not submitted information indicating that she is fit to return to work” but declined to elaborate.
Three months ago, Ms. Robinson read her victim’s impact statement aloud in a Kuujjuaq courtroom, as her assailant was sentenced.
“After I reported this case, I was booted out of my residence, I was sent to Montreal and abandoned,” she said, before breaking down sobbing. “I was suspended from my job, I lost my entire financial support, and now my career is ruined.”
Ms. Robinson had worked other jobs before deciding to become a northern police officer in her early thirties. She found that patrolling Inuit and Cree villages around Ungava Bay was taxing, given how rates of violent crimes in Canada’s Far North can be triple the national average.
Her work did not always endear her to colleagues – in fact, she says she criminally investigated several fellow officers, including, she says, a 25-year-old constable whom she helped to arrest during a drunken bar brawl.
This was Special Constable Joe Willie Saunders – an officer prized in his home precinct of Kuujjuaq for his ability to speak Inuktitut.
On Feb. 5, 2010, off-duty police in the village of 2,500 were having a party. Ms. Robinson became intoxicated at the event, when the on-duty Constable Saunders gave her a lift home to a police dormitory.
She recalls passing out and awaking hours later to see Constable Saunders put on his pants and head for the door. It was only then that she realized that he had just had sex with her, without her consent.
For a week, she agonized over what to do before reporting the crime. Closure took 2 1/2years. On Aug. 24, Constable Saunders was sentenced, having pleaded guilty to sexual assault on the eve of his trial.
He “was suspended when the event happened,” explained Ms. D’Astous, the police spokeswoman. “He was brought back on administrative duties three months after.”
Ms. Robinson received a letter from KRPF Chief Aileen MacKinnon two days after she came forward.
The KRPF “must be certain that when you are at work you are at all times able to execute your duties in a manner that does not put yourself, your co-workers or the public at risk,” the letter says. It urged Ms. Robinson to go to Montreal for an immediate psychiatric exam. “You will not return to work before your medical evaluation,” the letter says. “You are hereby authorized to use vacation days at this time.”
For nearly three years, Ms. Robinson has sat sidelined in her hometown of Ottawa, getting by on her savings and a federal crime victims’ fund as she pursues a labour grievance against the force. She says she had taken a short-term stress leave in the months before she was sexually assaulted, but her career was back on track when the assault took place.
Today, two sides are negotiating the terms on which they can part. Ms. Robinson says she is being offered a few months pay to go away for good. Chief MacKinnon refused to answer any questions about the case, even when she was approached by a reporter in her Kuujjuaq office.
Editor's Note: Nunatsiaq News, a newspaper in Iqaluit, Nunavut, had previously published a story on its website about this case. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story, which has been corrected.