Nunavik police sexual assault victim goes public
"No victim any where should feel they are risking their job by reporting abuse"
Nearly three years after she was sexually assaulted by a fellow police officer in the Kativik Regional Police Force, Denise Robinson is speaking out, with a story published online Nov. 9 in the Globe and Mail.
“No victim anywhere should feel they are risking their job by reporting abuse,” Robinson told the Nunatsiaq News. “Particularly in police forces in this county. This has to be looked into and policies established to protect victims of crime from this happening.”
A former member of the Kativik Regional Police Force is now serving out an 18-month jail sentence after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting Robinson when she served with the KRPF.
Joe Willie Saunders, 25, of Kuujjuaq, first accused of sexual assault causing bodily harm, pleaded guilty in February 2012 to the lesser charge of sexual assault, in connection with incidents that court documents say took place Feb. 5 and Feb. 6, 2010 in Kuujjuaq. He was sentenced last August in Kuujjuaq, where Robinson read a statement about what happened that night and how it affected her.
“This crime has significantly impacted my life and my health. I suffer from stress, two and a half years of flashbacks, insomnia, nightmares, panic attacks. I’m coping with the event itself but also the aftermath,” she said.
According to information presented in court, at about 10 p.m. on Feb. 5, the two officers on duty that night stopped by a police house party to say hello. They drove Robinson home to the police transit. One of those officers on duty was Saunders.
Several hours later Saunders returned to the police transit residence, which was unlocked.
Once inside, Robinson said he sexually assaulted her in her room. Saunders then left the residence and returned to duty.
Robinson, who admitted to being intoxicated, woke up during the assault. She then reported the incident to KRPF deputy chief Tristan Greene and also reported the incident to KRPF management.
Saunders was charged with sexual assault causing bodily harm. He was later released and given conditions pending resolution of the case in court.
After three months, the KRPF placed Saunders on administrative duty with pay, pending the result of court proceedings, which wrapped up Aug. 24 with his sentencing.
After the sentencing, Robinson and Saunders ended up flying to Montreal aboard the same aircraft.
Robinson, who has filed a grievance with her union, told Nunatsiaq News she has not worked or received any pay or benefits from the KRPF or the Kativik Regional Government since reporting the incident in 2010.
Her attacker, on the other hand, received full pay for nearly two years, until his conviction was registered in court.
Although Saunders pleaded guilty to sexual assault, settling the case, Robinson is still waiting to reach an agreement with the KRPF and the KRG.
Robinson said she was told in writing that she was being put on “mandatory medical leave without pay” until she was psychologically evaluated to determine if she is fit for duty — “two days after reporting my sexual assault.”
“I had no choice in this situation. I was sent away and not allowed to return to my Kuujjuaq residence and not sent my personal belongings. KRG claims it was my responsibility to maintain a second residence down south and they are not responsible for me having to find accommodations while on mandatory sick leave,” she said.
Robinson said she has undergone intense treatment for the trauma associated with the sexual assault and the treatment by KRPF — “all at my own expense” — and she has been determined “fit for duty as a police officer” by three separate doctors, including the KRG’s own doctor.
“But what each doctor has stated is the same… that I should NOT return to work with KRPF as it is a hostile and unsafe work environment for me and working in that same environment could re-traumatized me and subject me to ongoing harassment and abuse,” she said.
Robinson told Nunatsiaq News that “it is fair to say that as a result of my experience in the North and this trauma, my career as a police officer is not likely to continue. I have accepted this. I must now re-train and find a new career,” she said.
What she says she still doesn’t understand is why was she was suspended without pay and not offered any support or help to cope with the trauma and transition from her job.
“Where was the compassion? Not to mention their obligation, as it was their employee while on duty who assaulted me in their residence,” she said.
“At this point I have nothing more they can take from me: they have left me no option but to go public with my story. Three years I have waited and fought them to help me. As for the fight — I have to say I never dreamed it would go this far. All I was asking was for a little compassion and common sense in KRG-KRPF’s handling of me.”
Robinson said it “just does not seem ethical” to put her on medical leave and leave her with no pay.
“Why do that to one of your employees? Why not support them? Especially when they were victim of a crime by one of your employees on your property? To this day this all does not make sense,” she said.
“All I have asked for is that they help me with the medical bills and top up my pay so that I am not at a loss. If they had just offered that — I would have walked away and been able to start again fresh. But instead they have abandoned me.”
In a statement to the Globe and Mail, the KRPF said “Ms. Robinson was not suspended from her position.”
Spokeswoman Caroline D’Astous said Robinson technically remains an employee who “has not submitted information indicating that she is fit to return to work.”