VANCOUVER – The Kelowna RCMP detachment is the first to come under the scrutiny of a specialized national RCMP review team, CTV News has learned. The revelation comes as new details emerge about the limited progress made in the two years since an "action plan" promised significant changes to Mounties' investigations into sexual assaults.

Data submitted by police agencies to Statistics Canada reveals that in 2018 the Kelowna detachment classified 40 per cent of sexual assault complaints as “unfounded,” or unsubstantiated; the provincial average was 15 per cent.

The discrepancy caught the attention of RCMP National Headquarters and led to the assignment of the Sexual Assault Review Team (SART), making the Kelowna investigation “the first detachment-level review that the SART has undertaken,” according to a statement from RCMP headquarters media relations in Ottawa. The team was originally formed to review all 2,200 RCMP sexual assault files deemed “unfounded” in 2016, following an extensive Globe and Mail investigation into how sexual assaults are investigated.

In December 2017, the force released The Way Forward: The RCMP’s sexual assault review and victim support action plan, with an analysis of where procedures and training were lacking and a series of steps they planned to take to address shortcomings. In summary, “The RCMP is taking action to strengthen police training and awareness, investigative accountability, victim support, and public education and communication.”

In the two years since that report was published, it appears there’s been limited progress.

While Mounties say they’ve had updates to a course on interviewing witnesses and victims and an additional course on standards for reporting, much of the material and training appears to be voluntary.

“An online training package on consent law and common sexual assault myths” is available, as is “investigator development and interview training that includes information on sexual assault,” but a new online training course titled “Using a Trauma-Informed Approach” won’t be available for weeks; it is also referred to as “available,” with no detail on whether investigators are encouraged or even expected to take it.

More importantly, the RCMP revealed “A specific sexual assault investigators course is in the early planning stages,” and that “ Kelowna detachment does not have separate, specific training for sex assault investigations.”

Alleged victim comes forward

The information comes after a Kelowna woman recently came forward, saying her historic sexual assault complaint was closed as unfounded after what she describes as a cursory investigation last year.

"It was really awkward, they had no clue what they were doing and you could tell that they didn't know how to talk about sexual assault at all,” said Heather Friesen of her interview by two Mounties as she relayed her experienced of being gang-raped as a high school student. She claims the investigators seemed disinterested and dismissed her case after a couple of phone calls, one of which was to the wrong person.

"I've had 32 years to reconcile my trauma and it was really difficult for me not to get angry with them, so I can't imagine being a fresh survivor and having to deal with them,” she said, adding “at the end of the day I just feel the RCMP aren't doing their jobs and however they label it, ‘unfounded’ to me is a slap in the face because it means they're not believing survivors and they're not believing 40 per cent of survivors in Kelowna, which is appalling."

When asked for a response to the detachment’s unfounded statistics, Cpl. Meghan Foster sent a statement acknowledging the number is “unsettling” and that "we understand that there are many questions about the roots of these statistics, and we're taking immediate steps to get answers."