A transgender woman who alleges her sexual assault report wasn’t taken seriously by the Nelson Police Department has had a complaint dismissed by the BC Human Rights Tribunal.
Olivia Bean first reported her assault to the department on Aug. 22, 2015. In her submission to the tribunal, Bean says interviewing officer Sgt. Nathaniel Holt “repeatedly normalized the sexual assault, along with the financial and emotional abuse she was reporting.”
Bean alleges Holt was impatient, did not take her seriously because of her gender identity and consistently redirected conversation away from the assault report to discussions about her transition. Holt also allegedly dissuaded her from pressing charges and recommended she instead visit Kootenay Lake Hospital.
She says she later returned twice more to report further harassment, and received the same response from Holt. No charges were laid, nor was a restraining order applied for.
Bean and her mother Erica Scott did not issue a complaint to the tribunal until June 7, 2022, nearly seven years after Bean’s first visit to the department. That delay led to the tribunal ruling against them.
Section 22 of the province’s Human Rights Code states complaints can still be filed after the time limit expires if accepting the complaint is determined to be in the public interest.
“Ms. Bean’s complaint is extremely late filed. After reviewing the entirety of her explanation in filing, I find it does not weigh in favour of the public interest in accepting the complaint for late filing,” wrote Adamson.
“While I accept Ms. Bean has mental disabilities that effected her ability to marshal a complaint on her own and made it difficult to discuss events in 2015 with Ms. Scott, the information related to these barriers does not indicate she was precluded from passing on the necessary information for her representative to start a complaint on her behalf.”
Bean told the tribunal the complaint had been delayed in part due to her diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and autism spectrum disorder. Following the interactions with Holt she said she was incapable of working, was suicidal and couldn’t talk about the incident or experience “without creating a serious risk to her health.”
Adamson didn’t dispute Bean’s sexual assault allegation and acknowledged she has mental health disabilities that contributed to the delayed complaint. He also agreed the complaint could have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but he was not satisfied with why it hadn’t been lodged before then.
The Office of the Police Complaint Commission, which leads investigations of municipal police departments in B.C., agreed with Scott in June 2021 that the Nelson Police Board had not sufficiently addressed her concerns. They included requests for a third-party review of sexual assault files, that the department adopt the Canadian Framework for Collaborative Police Response on Sexual Violence, and that the department submit an apology to Bean.
Less than a year later on Jan. 18, 2022, the commission said it was satisfied with the board’s response to the file. It later ruled again on Sept. 12, 2022, in favour of Chief Donovan Fisher, who Scott had argued conducted an inadequate review of the investigation.
Adamson agreed with the OPCC decision and found no fault with either Fisher’s review or that there was sufficient evidence of police discrimination toward Bean. Adamson wrote Fisher “was confident that (then) Detective Constable Holt had conducted himself with patience, empathy, and compassion.” The department also concluded Bean’s sexual assault investigation was unfounded.
Fisher told the Nelson Star in a statement he is confident with how the department handled the case as well as the ensuing complaints.
“I think I’m more satisfied that it’s resolved. We’ve gone through two OPCC processes, which we have fully co-operated with. We have been transparent and provided all the information requested, including the videoed interviews. I think we’ve defended ourselves already.
“I would also say we continue to strive for improvement in our service delivery to the entire community. Officers take Trauma Informed Practices and Unconscious Bias training among other courses, several of which are currently under development, such as an Indigenous Cultural and Historical Awareness course. We engage community groups and have set up an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion advisory committee.”
Scott, who works as a consent educator and spoke to the Star on behalf of Bean, said she intends to appeal the tribunal’s decision.
“In 2015, my daughter was a terrified young woman begging for a restraining order from the Nelson Police. Instead she received disbelief, discrimination, and misinformation. In 2020 we learned of the complaints process when we heard about a similar complaint.
“All she ever wanted from the police was an apology for their behaviour towards her, but when they refused to apologize or learn from their mistakes, the complaint process was begun. It’s very sad and frustrating that the Nelson Police Department has chosen to follow such an expensive and hostile process, rather than simply apologize and learn from their mistakes.”
Sexual assaults are rarely reported to police. A Statistics Canada survey in 2019 found 94 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and older who experienced a sexual assault did not speak with police after the incident.
There were 15 incidents of sexual assault reported to the Nelson Police Department in 2022, according to Statistics Canada. Of those, none were determined to be unfounded and three people were charged.
In July, the B.C. government announced it was setting new policing rules that standardize officers working with victim service workers during sexual assault investigations.
There is no statute of limitations for reporting sexual assaults to B.C. law enforcement. Jennifer Khor, supervising lawyer at Community Legal Assistance Society, said it’s concerning there isn’t a longer period allowed for human rights complaints related to sexual assaults or harassment.
Sexual assault victims, Khor said, often require time to process their trauma. They might feel guilt for being assaulted, concerned for how they are perceived by loved ones, or shame in a society that can blame victims.
And, Khor said, it can take longer than one year for that to happen.
“I think that sometimes they’re afraid what that will change, also how they relate to people in their family, or how people will view them in society. Often people are still in a state of shock and disbelief and they may be trying to deny what happened to them or haven’t found a way to process it sufficiently to be able to talk about it.”
Victims of sexual assault who live in B.C. can access free legal advice with the Community Legal Assistance Society by calling 604-673-3143 or emailing email@example.com. The Stand Informed program offers up to three hours of free, confidential legal advice and is staffed by people who take a trauma-informed approach.