Earlier today, The Coast ran a story in relation to two women who had interacted with police numerous times over the last two years in relation to several incidents.
We’re taking the unprecedented step of making our response to The Coast public so that our citizens are fully aware of our position on this matter. Cst. Pierre Bourdages sent the following email to Hilary Beaumont of The Coast on Friday, September 26 in response to her inquiry about this matter.
I’ve researched your inquiry and am writing with our response. Based on FOIPOP legislation, we don’t identify anyone involved with police unless they’re charged criminally; therefore, we won’t confirm the identity of the complainants, persons of interest and/or witnesses in the files you’re inquiring about in your email. Further, these matters remain under investigation, so we are unable to speak to the specifics because this would jeopardize our case.
We have four files involving similar circumstances where someone has created an on-line profile(s) of a woman and is posing as her, posting pictures of her and making sexualized comments. The first three files involve the same female complainant and the fourth file involves a different female complainant.
- The first file was an incident involving threats which Halifax Regional Police (HRP) received in January 2013. It was investigated by a Patrol Officer who consulted with the Crown and the officer made the decision that charges weren’t warranted. The file was closed in March 2013.
- The second file was an assist citizen file which HRP received in March 2014. It was investigated by Patrol Officers, however, there was an error made during the investigation where one of the investigating officers contacted a woman with the same name as the complainant. This woman, whom the officer believed to be the complainant, refused to cooperate with the police investigation and the file was closed. It wasn’t until July, when the actual complainant contacted police asking about the status of the file, that we realized our mistake. We immediately opened a new/third file so we could continue the investigation. Contacting the wrong person was based on human error which we have explained to the complainant. We sincerely apologize for our mistake and any further pain and frustration this has caused her.
- The third file is a continuation of the second and has been reclassified as a criminal harassment matter. As part of this file, another complainant came forward with similar circumstances; she had dealt with an HRP Patrol Officer previously but was referred to CyberSCAN and her information is being considered as a fourth file. These investigations are on-going and have been assigned to investigators in the Integrated General Investigation Section of the Criminal Investigation Division (not the Homicide Unit as you indicate in your email) since July to allow for dedication and consistency in the investigative process.
Having conducted a preliminary review of these files today, Deputy Chief Bill Moore has requested a thorough review to determine if/how the files could have been better handled and, if so, what we can do to improve our processes in future; it will take some time for the review to be completed. Further, the Superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Division has assigned the files to a senior supervisor to do two things:
- Ensure that all four files outlined above are assigned to investigator who’s investigating the third and fourth files.
- Review all four files involving two different complainants and work with the assigned investigator to move things forward.
Despite the issues outlined above, we take cybercrimes and sexualized violence seriously. In fact, sexualized violence is one of our operational priorities. We’ve been working with our community stakeholders to try to raise awareness in the community of our collective responsibility to address sexualized violence and assist victims. We have changed our initial response to sexual assaults, are targeting juvenile prostitution and creating partnerships to target predators in our community. We have also revised our messaging to ensure it addresses predators’ actions and behaviours rather than victims – they must stop victimizing women, creating fake profiles, posing as a particular woman and posting explicit content. It’s crude, offensive and potentially dangerous, and we’ll look at every possible angle to charge these people and hold them responsible.
That said, this isn’t easy to do. Cybercrimes are ever-evolving territory for us and entail very complex investigations which typically take a long time to investigate. Often, they can involve persons of interest/suspects in other countries for which Canadian police agencies’ production orders and search warrants aren’t valid. Where the offence took place and/or where the suspect is locate factor into our investigation and our officers sometimes must undergo the lengthy and cumbersome process of making a request pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty to obtain information to possibly proceed with charges in Canada. A compounding factor is that many countries will only extradite an accused if they are facing the most serious of charges (e.g. homicide) and won’t do so for cybercrimes even if police in Canada lay a charge.
Regarding training on cybercrimes, not all officers are trained in this regard. Rather, we have a specialized unit within the Criminal Investigation Division dedicated to Internet Child Exploitation with investigators who possess extensive training and experience in conducting on-line investigations. These investigators serve as a resource for other officers investigating on-line crimes, both in the Patrol and Criminal Investigation Divisions, and can be brought in on such files for their knowledge and expertise.
Given that cybercrime is proliferating, we recognize that we need more education for all officers in this regard so they’re better equipped with how to handle such files. Some officers may not be familiar with the best way to proceed with such investigations, thus a thorough investigation isn’t being conducted. We’re in the process of partnering with CyberSCAN who will be making presentations to officers about the Cyber Safety Act and the mandate of their unit. We’ll also work to educate our officers on how to conduct such investigations and when they should rely on the expertise of our specialized investigators and if/when they should involve CyberSCAN or refer a file to them. To be clear, it’s the role of police to conduct criminal offences in this regard.
Regarding CyberSCAN, we have a very strong relationship with them. We assist them with training and also with their investigations, they assist us with our investigations and we often collaborate on files. We also refer files to them and vice versa. We have regular contact and open lines of communication with CyberSCAN and are confident that if issues existed, HRP and/or CyberSCAN would feel comfortable raising them. We view our relationship with CyberSCAN as mutually beneficial and believe it provides more expertise in dealing with cybercrimes and offers better protection and supports for victims.
Regarding the experience of our investigators, our human resources practices ensure transfers to the Criminal Investigation Division are based on officers’ level of experience; their age is irrelevant. For our officers to work in the Criminal Investigation Division, they must have five years of service, have successfully completed an advanced investigative techniques course and successfully completed an interview for the role. This process is very competitive and it’s our experience that officers often have roughly seven years’ experience on the job before they’re accepted into the Criminal Investigation Division as an investigator.
We have addressed as many of your questions as possible but can’t answer others because doing so would jeopardize the on-going investigations.
Hilary, this request required significant research which we’re willing to do as we want to be as open and transparent as possible with the media and our citizens. However, we respectfully ask that in future you give us more than 24 hours to meet your deadline on detailed matters.
I’m out of the office this afternoon but you can reach me on my cell at 902-xxx-xxxx.*
* Cst. Bourdages’ cell phone number has been redacted from the email as it is a line dedicated to media relations.