Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Unfounded: How police and politicians have responded to The Globe’s investigation so far


Unfounded: How police and politicians have responded to The Globe's investigation so far

The Globe spent 20 months investigating how police across Canada handle sex-assault allegations, and found flaws and inconsistencies in how many cases are closed as 'unfounded,' or baseless. Lawmakers and law enforcement have promised to do better. Here's what they've said, and how we got here

Ava reported a sexual assault to London, Ont., police in 2010. Her allegation was cleared as unfounded.

The response from police so far

Since the Unfounded investigation's debut, more than 50 police forces have announced investigations into sexual-assault cases that were deemed "unfounded." Here's an overview of what's been promised.

  • The Ottawa Police Service has committed to an external review of its sexual-assault cases based on the so-called Philadelphia model of civilian oversight.
  • The Calgary Police Service was the first department in the country to commit to an ongoing external review based on the Philadelphia model, which give front-line advocates detailed access to the department’s cases.
  • The Sûreté du Québec is conducting a review of a large sample of unfounded cases to examine how the determinations were reached. In addition, it has joined the Quebec bar association and the Montreal police in a working group to look at how they might change the approach to such cases, including the potential adoption of the Philadelphia model.
  • Canada’s military police will be reviewing all sex-assault cases dismissed as unfounded going back to 2010, which would include 167 cases.
  • RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson ordered a review of all recent sex-assault cases classified as unfounded. The day before his announcement, the police force said it would only review its policies and practices, not revisit old cases.
  • Ontario Provincial Police said they will be reviewing about 4,000 unfounded reports across the province. Commissioner Vince Hawkes says the review will cover allegations made between 2010 and 2014. The OPP’s unfounded rate was 34 per cent, well above the national average.
  • The London Police Service is auditing hundreds of unfounded sex-assault cases going back to 2010, and its chief apologized to “any victims whose experiences left them feeling that they were not supported.” London has one of the highest unfounded rates among Canadian cities.
  • London Staff sergeant Paul Gambriel was placed under internal investigation after inquiries from The Globe and Mail over his handling of a 2010 sexual-assault complaint, and has been cleared of misconduct.
  • In British Columbia, the Central Saanich police department presented one of the highest unfounded rates in the country at 60 per cent, although the service is also one of the smallest. There are only 16,500 people in the police jurisdiction and in the time frame reviewed by The Globe, there were only 25 allegations of sexual assault, 15 of which were deemed unfounded. The service has already gone back and looked through each unfounded case.

Here is a partial list of other police forces who've announced reviews:

  • Eastern Canada: All nine New Brunswick departments not run by the RCMP; Truro Police Service.
  • Ontario: Halton Regional Police Service; Hamilton Police Service; Kingston Police; La Salle Police Service; North Bay Police; Sault Ste. Marie Police Service; South Simcoe Police; Greater Sudbury Police; Waterloo Regional Police Service; Woodstock Police Service; York Regional Police.
  • Quebec: Service de police de la ville de Gatineau.
  • Western Canada: Regina Police Service; Saskatoon Police Service; Delta Police Department.

How high is the unfounded rate for your community? Use our lookup tool below to find out.

Story continues below advertisement

The response from government and its agencies so far

  • Statistics Canada will once again start collecting and publishing data on unfounded criminal cases.
  • The Liberal government is planning to invest more than $100-million over five years to create a national strategy to prevent gender-based violence, citing the Globe’s Unfounded investigation.
  • Quebec’s Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux confirmed the province’s directorate of audit, inspection and investigation will review procedures on sexual assault in the provincial police force and across several municipal forces.
  • Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety Marie-France Lalonde said she is open to implementing the Philadelphia model.
  • Canada’s public safety ministers have started to lay the groundwork for a national strategy to deal with sexual-assault cases. The goal will be to lay out a common set of practices police and prosecutors should use when dealing with victims of sexual violence.
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, days after The Globe’s Unfounded investigation launched, said it would prompt further action from the federal government. “I have tasked our Status of Women Minister to engage with this as a broad topic, understanding that there is no one thing we can do that is going to flip the switch on this,” he said at a question-and-answer session with university students in Ottawa.

What the investigation found

The Globe's investigation looked at police forces across the country to see how often sexual assault cases were closed as "unfounded," meaning the investigator didn't think a crime had occurred. The findings upended conventional wisdom about how sexual assaults are reported to police, prosecuted and documented.

Key findings:

  • Nationally, police close about one in five sex-assault cases as unfounded.
  • Unfounded rates vary considerably between provinces and cities, and even between cities that are close to one another. Calgary’s rate, for instance, is 12 per cent; but in Medicine Hat, Alta., it’s 22 per cent.
  • The high numbers of unfounded cases aren’t being documented or published by Statistics Canada, which stopped collecting the data in the early 2000s because it was concerned police forces weren’t using the “unfounded” category consistently.
  • Despite Canada’s comparatively progressive laws on defining consent in cases involving drugs or alcohol, such cases rarely make it to court. Of the 54 people interviewed by The Globe about their experiences reporting sexual assault to police, alcohol or drugs played a role in 18 cases, about 40 per cent. Fourteen of those 18 were closed without charges.

Police dismiss one in five sexual-assault claims as baseless, Globe investigation reveals

How it was researched and reported

The Globe sent 250 freedom-of-information requests to every Canadian police service. It got replies from 873 police jurisdictions, which represented about 92 per cent of Canada's population. Our journalists spent months analyzing the data and organizing it so Canadians could find out the unfounded rates in their communities. Here's more background on the methodology used.

The story behind how Unfounded was reported

The investigation also included interviews with 54 people who had reported sexual assault to the police. Thirty-six of those people agreed to share their stories publicly; you can read those profiles here.

Of the 36 people who agreed to share their stories of reporting sexual assault to police, 25 had their allegation dismissed before going to court. Eight had a positive experience reporting to police.

What experts said should be done better

The Globe's Robyn Doolittle spoke with educators, criminologists, trauma experts and lawyers who offered clear ideas about what should be done to address the issues raised by the Unfounded investigation:

  • Statistics Canada should release unfounded statistics.
  • Police forces should adopt better standardized protocols for how police should handle sex-assault cases.
  • Police should be better taught how to interview sexual-assault survivors, such as interviewing them a few days after the incident, when their memories are clearer, instead of immediately after.
  • There should be better and more consistent oversight of how police forces deal with sexual assault.

Some advocates are urging Canada to adopt the so-called Philadelphia Model, a 17-year-old initiative in which women's advocates do annual reviews of sexual-assault case files with high-ranking officers. Since adopting that model, the U.S. city has slashed its unfounded rate from 18 per cent to about 4 per cent. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has spoken highly of the model, saying at a Justice Department conference in March that "without a doubt, the Philadelphia model is one of the most exciting policing initiatives in this area."

Philadelphia's model is an attractive option to the force in North Bay, Ont., where police are closing an average of 44 per cent of sex-assault cases as unfounded. Police in the community of 59,000 devised a five-year plan to bring in criminology masters students from Nipissing University and implement a policy review. But there's a problem: The force, with fewer than 100 officers, doesn't have the money. Their challenges are emblematic of small cities across the country where unfounded rates are high.

Story continues below advertisement

A trauma expert assesses how one woman’s sexual assault report was handled by London police

With reports from Robyn Doolittle, Daniel Leblanc, Patrick White and The Canadian Press


Report an error Licensing Options

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨