The Reaction to the Canadian Police Sex Scandal Is a Shining Example of Rape Culture

Only six percent of sexual assaults are reported to police in Canada. With situations like these, it's easy to see why.

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Oct 29 2015, 2:45pm

Quebec Public Security Minister Lise Thériault wipes tears away at the legislature in Quebec City. Photo by The Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot

A few weeks ago, I interviewed a Calgary police officer who told me that rape culture doesn't exist. He went so far as to say that because of the media attention surrounding sexual assaults, "it's kind of come around the other way" where we believe victims whether the crimes happened or not.

The irony is that's exactly the kind of bullshit point-of-view that fuels society's tendency to side with sex assault perpetrators over victims. And while you might expect more from a person in authority—in law enforcement no less—what's happening in Quebec right now proves that your faith would be misguided.

This week, eight Quebec police officers were either put on leave or moved to administrative duties (not suspended) while they are being investigated for sexually assaulting Aboriginal women in the city of Val d'Or. They stand accused of using alcohol and drugs to coerce the women into performing sexual acts, targeting women who appeared to be intoxicated, and sometimes driving them out of town, leaving them to find their own way home. If true, it's stomach-churning behavior. But the manner in which police and local politicians are speaking about it publicly is disturbing in its own right.

Let's start with Martin Prud'homme, director of the Sûreté du Québec (the provincial police), who told reporters "there is no crisis" in the force. "Everyone is in solution mode—on the Aboriginal side, from the community—and normally when looking for solutions, you find them."

One of the solutions he's referring to is the force's commitment to installing dashboard cameras in police cruisers. That's all good. But eight officers being accused of racially-motivated sex crimes sounds like it could be indicative of a systemic issue—an issue that cameras won't fix—and it's difficult to adequately address that without acknowledging there's a problem.

Then there's cop union president Pierre Veilleux who, apparently pissed off that people are pissed off about the scandal, said, "It is high time that various players on the public scene stop fueling public outrage toward the officers of the Sûreté du Québec." He emphasized that these allegations are just that. "The presumption of innocence is a fundamental principle in a society based on the rule of law. We must not lose sight of that." (False rape accusations are extremely rare, a fact you'd think a cop would be well aware of.)

Veilleux also threw a healthy dose of victim-blaming into his commentary when he noted that the issue really boils down to "difficulty" in Aboriginal communities.

"It would be unfortunate if these officers become scapegoats for problems that overshadow their responsibilities."

If you sexually assault someone, that is your responsibility. That's how that works.

During times like these, people often turn to their local politicians for comfort and leadership. When reached by the National Post, Pierre Corbeil, mayor of Val d'Or seemed to minimize the gravity of the investigation.

"Reactions range from sympathetic to skeptical," he said. "There are people who say straightaway, 'It's about time this came out,' and there are others who say, 'Is it really that big a deal?'"

Really, dude? Even if some moron actually pondered whether or not sexual assault is "a big deal," the mayor is giving that perspective more credence by parroting it in the media.

The one person who displayed empathy for the alleged victims is Quebec Public Security Minister Lise Thériault, who cried during a press conference in which she said she was "shocked" to hear of the allegations. Noting that some officers in the force are "rotten," Thériault said it's "time to do something." And for that, she is being publicly condemned. An online petition—reportedly started by an officer—is calling for her to apologize for taking sides.

"Through the lack of control of her emotions and through her words, minister Thériault helped increase the public's anger toward the police officers of Quebec," reads the petition, which has amassed more than 1,700 signatures.

Meanwhile, as a sign of protest, most policemen in Val d'Or reportedly skipped work over the weekend. So shedding tears over women who say they've been abused is inappropriate, but showing solidarity with officers being accused of sexual assault is totally cool? Right.

In this scenario, a group of marginalized women is coming forward against a police force. Faced with that type of power imbalance, I imagine speaking out would have been a very intimidating experience. Instead of being comforted, their accounts have immediately been cast under a light of suspicion. It's one thing for assholes on the internet to perpetuate rape myths and engage in victim-blaming. But when authority figures—people charged with protecting the vulnerable and marginalized—are imparting those views, it's harmful.

Only six percent of sexual assaults are reported to police in Canada. With situations like these, it's easy to see why.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.

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