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B.C. courts should be careful using alternative measures in sexual assault cases: advocate

Last Updated Nov 15, 2019 at 5:13 am PDT

FILE - Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov speaks at a news conference after he was charged with sexual assault, on Thursday, March 28, 2019. (CityNews Vancouver) (CityNews)
Summary

The vast majority of sexual assault cases do not get to the point where alternative measures are an option

Crown policy lays out specific circumstances in which a sexual assault charge can be resolved using alternative measures

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The sexual assault charge against Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov has been stayed following his completion of an alternative measures program, a move advocates say is rarely used and must be carefully considered.

The details surrounding the incident that led to the charges have not been released, nor have the specifics surrounding the alternative measures pursued. A stay of proceedings is entered when a case is terminated before a finding of guilt or innocence is reached.

The vast majority of sexual assault cases do not get to the point where alternative measures are an option, explains Angela Marie MacDougall with Battered Women’s Support Service.

“There is a very small portion that actually makes it to charge approval by the Crown,” she says. “We’re talking about a tiny percentage.”

Ninety-five per cent of sexual assaults go unreported, according to MacDougall, and the majority of those never make it to trial.

She says groups like hers generally discourage the use of alternative measures by the criminal justice system when it comes to “power-based crimes” which include sexual assault, domestic violence, and criminal harassment.

RELATED: Port Moody mayor says he has been ‘exonerated’ of sex assault charge, will return to work Monday

“We’ve spoken for a long time about the problems with alternative dispute resolution. Crown counsel has to be very, very careful in making a decision to pursue an alternative dispute measure in a case of a power-based crime,” she says, adding the legal system generally does a poor job of holding people accountable for these types of offences. “In the context of the legal system’s lack of addressing power-based crimes in any regard, it has to be thought about very carefully.”

Crown policy lays out specific circumstances in which a sexual assault charge can be resolved using alternative measures.

First, any sexual assault involving a weapon or causing bodily harm is ruled out. Next, the accused must not have an “apparent history of violence or sexual offences.”

Finally, the victim must be consulted.

MacDougall says this last consideration is key.

“We certainly want survivors of sexual violence to be able to have a say in what the outcome will be when they bring their cases to the criminal system,” she says. “If it is to be applied the victim would have to be centred, which is to say the victim would have to be in control of that process.”

The incident that led to the sexual assault charge against Vagramov dates back to 2015. When speaking about it Thursday he described it as stemming from an “awkward date” and said he has since apologized to the woman who made the police report on two occasions.

MacDougall says the Mayor’s phrasing is “unfortunate.”

She adds the fact that a police report was made several years after the alleged assault isn’t unusual: some speak out right away, some never do at all, and many take time to weigh the consequences of the decision to make a police report.

“It can take a long time for survivors to come forward, for victims to speak about their experience of sexual violence. This has a lot to do with the amount of victim-blaming that occurs within society, where women are not believed about their experiences of sexual assault, women are blamed for their experiences or their experiences are minimized and denied,” MacDougall says.