Crown won't pursue rape charge, says Kelowna woman who successfully sued RCMP for mistreatment | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Crown won't pursue rape charge, says Kelowna woman who successfully sued RCMP for mistreatment

Aden Withers wants people to know she's more than an unfounded statistic.
August 25, 2020 - 7:00 PM

Aden Withers's life was forever changed eight years ago after meeting up with an acquaintance on a city bus who later raped her.

That assault set into motion her foster family losing faith in her, undermined her sense of safety and eroded what little trust she had in the social systems that were meant to protect children in the same position. She also had to deal with the aftermath of an assault.

It’s a story Withers told countless times in the last couple of years as she went through the process of successfully suing the RCMP, the Ministry of Children and Family Development as well as several social workers and former RCMP Cpl. Kent Hall.

The treatment she got while making the 2012 rape complaint gained widespread condemnation and put into sharp focus the dysfunction of Kelowna’s branch of the Ministry of Children and Family Development, something that continues to be the focus of a class-action lawsuit.

The civil suit concluded in January, and it offered something in return for the pain suffered. Withers was, however, expecting a little more closure to that chapter of life.

Withers thought charges against the alleged attacker would materialize in the months that followed.

This week, however, there was unexpected news.

“No charges were approved in relation to this matter after Crown Counsel carefully reviewed the available evidence and determined that it did not meet the B.C. Prosecution Service’s charge assessment standard,” Alisia Adams, B.C. Prosecution Service, said in an emailed statement.

The Prosecution Service Charge Assessment Guidelines require Crown Counsel to independently, objectively and fairly measure all available evidence against a two-part test: First, whether there is a substantial likelihood of conviction and then, if so, whether the public interest requires a prosecution.

Withers said the Crown explained the statement  made when she was 17 years old didn’t match up with the statement  made more recently and that there wasn’t enough evidence.

“I was 17 then and of course what I said this time wasn’t going to match up — I was being interrogated not interviewed that time,” Withers said. “And they said they didn’t have enough evidence? They had my underwear, and they threw them away because my case wasn’t worth investigating. They had the evidence but just threw it out.”

In the civil suit, video of Withers trying to make a rape complaint while the RCMP officer asked questions, including whether she liked the assault was included in evidence. Withers said, as the case started making its way through the courts, that the interaction was part of a series of actions that undermined her account of the alleged attack.

The nurses who took her rape kit, she said, stopped taking evidence upon a recommendation from a social worker. The social workers, she said, also claimed she was lying.

When the civil suit acknowledged failures, she expected the complaint to be taken more seriously with that win under her belt. When it wasn’t, it was hurtful.

“I was really angry when I first heard the news,” she said. “But I’m still looking at other ways I can charge him. I don’t think that he should be able to get away with this — why should I have to pay the price?”

Withers said her alleged attacker is someone she still sees around town and seems largely unaffected by what happened eight years ago.

“It makes me uncomfortable that he’s been able to pursue his life as normal when my life was destroyed,” she said. “I think the justice system needs a revamping, the way they view sexual assault cases is medieval.”

The unfounded rate, she said, is evidence of that.

A dozen sexual assault cases in Kelowna are being re-investigated by the RCMP after they we complaints were originally deemed "unfounded," the detachment announced in February.

The RCMP's Sexual Assault Review Team was tasked with looking over files from the local detachment after an unusually high rate of cases were being put aside as unfounded.

In both 2017 and 2018, 70 cases of sexual assault were reported to the police in Kelowna and 40 per cent of those cases were dismissed as unfounded, according to Statistics Canada. That's three times the national average.

The national team reviewed Kelowna's files to determine what was going wrong, focusing on how 30 files from 2018 and 36 files from 2019 were dealt with.

While they found many of the cases were simply catalogued incorrectly, of those 66 sexual assault cases that were revisited, 12 have been flagged for further investigation. 

Changes have been personal, too. Withers has been thrust into a new way of life.

“I plan on writing to MLAs and government officials about rape victims and domestic violence victims because they need to change how they run things in B.C. and Canada-wide,” Withers said, adding the way Indigenous matters are dealt with is particularly egregious.

“I know it fails many women. I see it every day. Since the civil suit, I’ve had people reach out to me and I’ve attended RCMP meetings with them after their sexual assaults. I’ve seen how they are failed time and time again."

Being able to give back to those in a similar situation has become a salve, of sorts.

“It can be tiring but I like being able to help people who are in a similar position to me and it makes me feel like some justice is coming through,” Withers said. “Maybe I can inspire some change. I know I have changed things already… things can only go up.”

When the civil suit was concluded, the RCMP acknowledged that Withers had prompted change.

"We regret this incident and remain committed to improving how our employees respond to victims and investigate allegations of sexual assault.  This incident highlighted the importance for the RCMP to continue to review and update our sexual assault investigative training, practices and policies," Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet, Senior Media Relations, for the RCMP said in a statement.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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