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Students walk on campus at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C., on Sept.2, 2015.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Sexual-assault cases investigated by RCMP officers posted at the force's small detachment at the University of British Columbia end with criminal charges far less frequently than in neighbouring Vancouver, according to data uncovered during a recent Globe and Mail investigation.

Both forces cleared about one in 10 sexual assault cases as "unfounded" – a police term that means no crime occurred or was attempted – during a five-year period starting in 2010, according to The Globe's investigation.

The unfounded rates on campus and in Vancouver were in line with the average rate for all law-enforcement agencies across B.C.

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For near two years a team of Globe journalists, including investigative reporter Robyn Doolittle, dug into the figures and the people behind alleged sexual assault cases which police can deem "unfounded.'

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But the campus RCMP detachment's investigations of sexual-assault cases ended in criminal charges just 7 per cent of the time over that period, compared with about 17 per cent in Vancouver.

In 2013 and 2014, just one case each year out of dozens reported – 2 per cent and 3 per cent, respectively – ended in charges at UBC.

Unlike other provinces, police in B.C. don't lay charges; instead, investigators pass on evidence to Crown prosecutors, who make the ultimate decision. But advocates say they're concerned about how campus RCMP officers gather that evidence in the first place.

Advocates who have worked with both police forces helping victims of sexual violence say the disparity exists because RCMP officers at UBC, a force of fewer than 20 officers, have less training and less experience tackling these cases, which, on campus, can often hinge on conflicting reports of consent that can be complicated by high levels of intoxication.

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Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director at the Vancouver-based Battered Women's Support Services, said she has helped about 10 women a year over the past decade follow up with the UBC RCMP over their allegations and none of them have been satisfied with the results of the force's work on their files.

"I've been concerned about their level of basic investigative skills combined with their ability to communicate with the public," she said of the detachment.

Ms. MacDougall said the UBC Mounties – and RCMP officers from other jurisdictions – that she has worked with have been more apt to let their implicit biases bleed into how they investigate sexual assaults, compared with the Vancouver Police Department, a force of more than 1,300 sworn members with a unit of investigators dedicated to solving sex crimes.

She said victims have told her Mounties often asked them questions about what they were wearing and whether they had a previous sexual relationship with the suspect.

"All kinds of things that are not a part of the proper investigative process – it's more about their biases about what women should or shouldn't be doing," she said. "We just have to think about how the RCMP has even treated women in their own agency. There's a class-action suit around sexual harassment, let's not forget that."

A front-line worker at UBC, a woman barred from speaking to the media about her job, said two of the Mounties accepted the invitation when the whole detachment was asked to attend a recent campus conference focused on educating people on how trauma affects victims.

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"It's kind of if you get lucky and you get one of the good officers who actually care about the issue, versus someone who's just taking a call," she said of the detachment's approach to solving sex crimes.

Asked about its record on the file, a UBC RCMP's spokesperson forwarded The Globe's questions to national headquarters, which replied with a short e-mailed statement noting that every force across the country will review its unfounded cases from last year.

The VPD did not respond to a request late last week to comment on how it handles sexual-assault cases.

Janine Benedet, a UBC law professor studying sexual violence against women, said to get a charge, both the VPD and the RCMP must prove to the province's Crown prosecutors that their evidence will result in the substantial likelihood of a conviction. At UBC it may be objectively more difficult to get to this high standard of proof in a party-heavy environment where memories can be clouded by alcohol, but police may also still hold "a lot of unfortunate stereotypical assumptions about drinking and sexual activity," she said.

Doug LePard, chief of the Metro Vancouver's Transit Police force and former sex-crimes investigator in Vancouver, said police forces are increasingly giving investigators specialized training in interviewing both victims of alleged sex crimes and suspects.

"Confessions are a very important source of evidence or at least inculpatory statements," he said. "You need to be very skilled at that as well if you want a good chance of getting charges, because often that will be the only source of corroboration for the victim's story."

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With a report from Robyn Doolittle

Have you reported a sexual assault to the police? If you would be willing to share your experience with The Globe and Mail, please email robyndoolittle@globeandmail.com

The findings of a 20-month long investigation expose deep flaws in the way Canadian police forces handle sexual assault allegations. The Globe's Robyn Doolittle explains.
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