Woman who was stalked by police officer ex-boyfriend says justice system failed her
Despite a police misconduct probe that found a high-ranking B.C. officer had stalked and harassed his ex-girlfriend for years, a criminal investigation into the case did not result in charges.
Staff Sgt. Andrew Walsh was the head of the detective division for the Saanich Police Department when the woman, who CTV News is calling T.B., made her report to the province's Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner in 2021. The investigation found his actions to be "egregiously serious," including repeated unwanted contact with T.B., using police databases to conduct at least 92 searches on her and her family members, and lying about it during the investigation.
The disciplinary decision said dismissal would be the only appropriate consequence. However, Walsh was not fired, he retired before that investigation concluded in 2022.
Before reporting Walsh in 2021, the woman says she thought the criminal justice system and society as a whole had made significant progress on how it treats cases like these.
"I believed that we have come a long way when it comes to women's rights, which includes protection of women who are in intimate relationships or out of intimate relationships – over and above the protection of an offender's reputation, who happens to be a male in a position of authority. I was wrong – we have not come a long way," she told CTV News, explaining why she decided to speak out.
"I'm hoping for some level of protection because it failed in the criminal justice system, in the Crown's office – it failed."
T.B., who served 30 years as a police officer herself, made a police report about Walsh's behaviour, worried for the ongoing safety of herself and her family.
The case was handled by detectives with the Sidney/North Saanich RCMP and was being investigated parallel to the misconduct complaint. Statements and other materials gathered during the misconduct investigation were shared with the detectives assigned to the criminal case.
'THEY REALLY SEEMED SURE'
As far as T.B. knows, a report to Crown counsel was submitted recommending a charge of criminal harassment in September of 2021.
"I believe they did a really thorough investigation, conducted themselves very empathetically, compassionately. They really seemed sure, I don't think they questioned whether or not it would be approved," she said.
The following March, T.B. was told Crown had declined to prosecute. Further, she was told that a Peace Bond would not be pursued. A Peace Bond – although it is made under the Criminal Code of Canada – is not a charge or conviction. It is essentially a protective order that can be granted by the court if it is satisfied a person reasonably fears for their safety, their family's safety, or that damage will be done to their property.
T.B. said one of the reasons she was given for this decision was that Walsh had not "done anything" since April of 2021, when the misconduct complaint was filed.
"He was under investigation. So of course, he didn't do anything – that we know of. One of the most upsetting things, for any victim of any crime, of any anything that's traumatizing, is to be told that you should no longer have fear," T.B. said.
She also says the months-long wait for a decision gave her the impression that her file was "languishing" on a desk.
T.B. has been trying to get a better explanation for the outcome ever since, starting with a conversation with the prosecutor who made the decision. Because of Walsh’s rank and profession, the case was sent to a prosecutor in another jurisdiction on Vancouver Island.
"I can say that that conversation, it made no sense to me. She wasn't able to explain the reasons," T.B. said. "She just kept saying, 'Well, it's my assessment. It's my assessment.'"
British Columbia is one of just two provinces in Canada where Crown counsel makes the decision to lay a charge. In other jurisdictions it is the police who do so.
According to provincial guidelines, there is a two-part test that must be met in order for a case to proceed. First, the Crown must consider whether there is a "substantial likelihood of conviction." If there is, Crown must then decide "whether the public interest requires a prosecution."
These assessment guidelines are supplemented by more specific ones for particular crimes.
In the case of criminal harassment, the guidelines begin by describing the offence itself.
"Unlike most related criminal offences (for example assault) which, by definition, involve a completed criminal act before the investigation and prosecution process begins, incidents of criminal harassment are often ongoing," the document reads.
"While the harassment does not necessarily include an explicit threat, the cumulative effect of the prohibited activity, whether it is phone calls, letters, watching and besetting, generates a growing climate of fear that can eventually emotionally debilitate the victim. The majority of these cases involve victims who have at one time been involved in a relationship with the accused."
The guidelines also say that decisions in these cases "must be expedited" because delays can be distressing to victims who are already living in fear. In addition, the policy says a Peace Bond ought to be considered whenever charges are not approved or in the event that charges are stayed.
IMPACT ON FAMILY
One of the factors that is listed as requiring consideration in these cases is whether there is evidence that the harassment included others beyond the victim, such as family members, friends or co-workers.
For T.B., this is one of the most upsetting aspects of Walsh's behaviour in her case. The misconduct investigation found that he had conducted searches in police databases on 13 people associated with her. This included her mother, her siblings, and her children. Her ex-husband and current partner were also queried, as was her deceased father.
"As a victim of this type of crime and behaviour, it's one thing if it's against you, and only you. But when it involves your family, it takes it to another level. And, of course I have to deal with blaming myself for bringing him into my family. So that's another factor," T.B. said.
After the misconduct investigation was underway, one of T.B's nieces told her Walsh had started showing up at her workplace. She recalls bursting into tears when she was told.
After she reported this to investigators, they did another search of Walsh's database queries that revealed he had searched for information about her niece, according to the disciplinary decision.
"We still don't know the extent of his actions. It's such an invasion. There's the harassment and stalking, but there's also the breach of all of our private records, repeatedly and knowingly. It's really hard to wrap your head around why someone would do that," she said.
"If somebody is asking in that way, it's very disturbing behaviour, you cannot wrap your head around it they become unpredictable, and that's where the fear comes in."
The B.C. Prosecution Service has declined to comment on the case.
"The BCPS cannot comment on the results of the police investigation in this case," a spokesperson wrote in one email.
"The BCPS will not be commenting on these matters," read another.
'SPEAK UP, SPEAK OUT'
T.B. has tried to get the decision reconsidered, writing to everyone up to and including the province's attorney general and attaching all the documents detailing the now-concluded police misconduct investigation.
In an email she provided to CTV News, Murray Rankin's office says the case has been sent back to the prosecution service for review.
The BCPS would not confirm this, with the spokesperson saying in an email that no comment could be made on "any communications between the attorney general and members of the public."
T.B. says she is left with the feeling that Walsh is being protected instead of her, which is why she decided to publically share her story.
"My hope is that if the community is aware, the public is aware, that this will … act as a deterrent to this continuing for me or any of my family members," she said.
"Any women that find themselves in this position – especially when it comes to police officers who are the offenders – speak up, speak out."
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