Alleged sexual assault by off-duty officer in Vancouver leads to OPCC hearing
VANCOUVER -- The office tasked with investigating complaints against municipal police forces in British Columbia has ordered a public hearing in the case of a Victoria police officer accused of sexually assaulting a woman in his downtown Vancouver hotel room in 2018.
B.C.'s Police Complaint Commissioner ordered the hearing after receiving a request from the complainant, according to a news release issued by the commissioner's office Wednesday.
Former associate chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court Wally Opal will serve as the adjudicator in the hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.
Neither the complainant nor the officer is identified by name in a notice of public hearing from the OPCC.
At issue in the case are the events of May 12, 2018, and the early hours of the following morning. On May 11, according to the public hearing notice, the complainant travelled to "the greater Vancouver area" to visit a friend. The following day, the pair met up with a mutual friend and some of his friends, including the Victoria police officer, who was off duty at the time.
The group "engaged in significant alcohol consumption throughout the evening," the hearing notices states, and returned to the officer's hotel room in downtown Vancouver around 2:30 a.m. on May 13.
According to the OPCC, "sexual activity occurred between the complainant and the off-duty member, however, there is divergence in the evidence in terms of whether the sexual activity was consensual."
"The complainant ultimately reported to police that she was sexually assaulted by the off-duty member while she was incapacitated due to her alcohol consumption," the public hearing notice says.
The OPCC began investigating the incident in June 2018 at the request of the Victoria Police Department. The office assigned the Vancouver Police Department to conduct the investigation under the Police Act.
The following year, VPD Insp. Shelly Horne issued her decision as the discipline authority in the case, identifying an allegation of discreditable conduct against the Victoria officer and determining that the allegation "did not appear to be substantiated."
The case didn't end there, however. The Police Complaint Commissioner, believing "there was a reasonable basis to believe that the decision of the discipline authority was incorrect," appointed retired provincial court judge James Threlfall to review the matter and make his own decision.
In October 2019, Threlfall began a discipline proceeding against the Victoria officer, during which only the accused officer and the officer who investigated him testified.
"As the member did not request the calling of any witnesses during this proceeding, the complainant and other witnesses did not have the opportunity to give testimony," according to the OPCC.
Threlfall ultimately determined that the allegation of discreditable conduct against the Victoria officer was not substantiated. Threlfall's decision was provided to the complainant, who filed a written request to the complaint commissioner for a public hearing.
In granting the hearing, Commissioner Clayton Pecknold wrote that the case can be made that the discipline authority's interpretation of the Police Act as it applies to this situation was incorrect.
"I disagree with the discipline authority’s conclusion that in the absence of the commission of a sexual assault, the off-duty conduct of the member could not amount to misconduct," Pecknold wrote. "In my view, the allegation of discreditable conduct cannot be restricted to the discrete question of whether a sexual assault occurred."
The commissioner added that "it is necessary to examine and cross-examine witnesses and receive evidence that was not part of the record at the discipline proceeding in order to ensure a complete accounting of the events and allow for the credibility of all parties to be fully assessed."
A public hearing is also necessary to "preserve public confidence in the Victoria Police Department," Pecknold wrote.