Tuesday, July 7, 1998


p. A14.

Police must act on Jane Doe ruling

It was a stunning judgement. Neither rape victim "Jane Doe" nor the Toronto Police expected the court to issue such a hard-hitting condemnation of the force's investigation of one of Toronto's most notorious rape cases.

Madam Justice Jean MacFarland of the Ontario Court ruled that the police force was "irresponsible and grossly negligent" in its treatment of the women attacked by the Balcony Rapist 12 years ago.

She said the police used the women as "bait" to attract serial rapist Paul Callow into their net.

For Doe -- a pseudonym she uses to protect her identity -- the ruling was the culmination of a long, often discouraging battle to prove that police put women's safety at risk in order to capture their quarry. "There's great vindication in this decision," she said.

But she remained dubious that -- even with the judge's stinging indictment -- the way Toronto police investigate sexual assault cases will change much.

And that is the real measure of the significance of Friday's court judgement.

If police continue to bring stereotypical assumptions to sexual assault investigations -- women exaggerate rape, fantasize rape, react hysterically to warnings about rapists -- little will have been gained by Doe's legal victory.

Toronto police chief David Boothby, who was on vacation when the ruling was released, issued a statement promising that the force would use the judgement as "an opportunity to re-examine its approach to sexual assault investigations."

He instructed the unit commander of the sexual assault squad, Ken Cenzura, to review the 92-page judgement and report back. But he did not apologize to Doe. No member of the Toronto police force ever has.

Police spokesperson Marilyn McCann said she did not see the judgement as a catalyst for any particular changes in police techniques. And Rick Gauthier, acting head of the sexual assault squat, said he was unfamiliar with the case but standards have changed enormously since the Balcony Rapist prowled the Church and Wellesley neighborhood in 1986.

No doubt they have. Police no longer demand that women who report a rape take a polygraph test. DNA evidence is used in investigations. Computers are used to analyze patterns of crime. Police receive improved training and offer victim assistance programs.

But what is not clear -- at least not to women -- is that they can expect fair and respectful treatment from police in sexual assault investigations.

According to rape crisis counsellors, a staggering 90 per cent of women who have been sexually abused still choose not to report the crime.

Judge MacFarland made it plain in her ruling that she is not convinced that police attitudes have changed as much as the force would like people to believe. "Every police officer who testified agreed that sexual assault is a serious crime, second only to homicide," she said. "Yet I can not help but ask rhetorically -- do they really believe that, especially when one reviews their record in this area?

"It seems to me it was, as the plaintiff suggests, largely an effort in impression management rather than an indication of any genuine commitment for change."

The signals that the Toronto Police send to women in the coming days will be critical. They have the power to give real-life relevance to Judge MacFarland's decision -- or to let it stand as an empty legal landmark.

To set the right example, Boothby should:

  • Offer Doe and the other women attacked by Callow a sincere apology.

  • Instruct police lawyers not to appeal the judgement. Pursuing this showdown in the courts would be waste of resources that can be better used to improve the training and procedures of officers who investigate sexual assault.

  • Make public the results of Cenzura's review and use them as a basis for dialogue with women's groups.

Doe never wanted to go to court in the first place. She launched her lawsuit after failing to get police to understand that their attitude toward women was hurtful and condescending.

It took her 12 years to get that acknowledgment. But the court could provide what she wanted most: the assurance that no other woman will have to go through what she did. Only the police can do that.

"Balcony Rapist" case... [Fiona Stewart]

Created: February 14, 1999
Last modified: February 14, 1999

J.D. Jane Doe, c/o Walnet Institute
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710