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Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Const. Carl Douglas Snelgrove arrives at the provincial Supreme Court building in St. John's on Saturday, May 15, 2021.Sarah Smellie/The Canadian Press

The Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday denied a St. John’s police officer’s appeal to potentially overturn his sexual-assault conviction, ending the complainant’s 10-year battle for criminal justice.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Constable Doug Snelgrove was convicted in 2021 of sexually assaulting a 21-year-old woman, whose case galvanized the people of St. John’s to support survivors of sexual assault and triggered at least 10 others to come forward with allegations against other on-duty officers in the city. Constable Snelgrove has been suspended without pay since he was charged in 2015. He now returns to jail to serve the remainder of his four-year sentence.

St. John’s lawyer Lynn Moore, who has supported the victim, known only as Jane Doe, said her client is relieved it’s over, after a decade of being retraumatized through three trials, a preliminary inquiry and numerous interviews by police in a criminal-justice system that is very difficult for survivors to navigate.

“So much of her life has been on hold while the criminal-justice system does its torturous thing,” Ms. Moore said during an interview. “I’m delighting that the decision resulted in his conviction being upheld but I’m really saddened by how long it’s taking and how terribly, terribly difficult it was for her to have to endure.”

Legal experts have said the landmark case also strengthened sexual-assault laws where abuse of power among police is at play. The case, which exposed a police force’s predatory culture, has also led to system-wide changes that advocates say have made the province safer for women.

Now that the criminal proceedings are complete, Jane Doe’s public complaint to the police force about Constable Snelgrove can proceed and will be presided over by Chief Patrick Roche, said RNC spokesman Constable James Cadigan. It’s expected to be heard in April and will determine how Constable Snelgrove will be disciplined by the force.

“To protect the integrity of the public complaint proceedings the chief cannot comment on this case,” Constable Cadigan wrote in an e-mail.

Last year, Constable Snelgrove requested leave to appeal from the Supreme Court of Canada to consider that a trial judge violated his rights during a criminal proceeding by conducting discussions with counsel regarding the jury charge via e-mail and in person when he wasn’t present.

The assault took place just before Christmas in December, 2014, after Constable Snelgrove drove the young woman home in his patrol car around 3 a.m. Against policy, he didn’t inform the dispatcher he had anyone in the car. The woman testified that she was inebriated. After she discovered she was locked out of her apartment, Constable Snelgrove helped her enter through a basement window and came around to her door. The woman testified that she awoke on the loveseat in her living room naked, to the officer having anal intercourse with her. She had no recollection of consenting.

Sexual assault is the second most common offence for which police officers are prosecuted, according to a 2021 Canadian study published by Cambridge University Press. When police officers commit crimes, they are most likely to do so while on duty, the study also found.

Jane Doe’s case helped expose systemic problems with sexual assault within the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, leading to an independent workplace review, an external police watchdog investigation, a ban on police transporting members of the public, and mandatory training for provincial court judges about sexual assault.

Constable Snelgrove must be registered on a sex-offender list for the next 20 years.

Jane Doe, now 30, has spent nearly a third of her life fighting the case in court. She has struggled with depression and suicidal ideation but also completed two programs at community college.

Today, she has a career doing what loves. She lives in a small cove hours away from St. John’s with her partner, stepdaughter and two cats.

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