By Frances Cowley
For the last 10 years, Jane Doe’s life has been consumed by the thing she would most like to forget. Since her rape in 1986, Doe has been working on her case against the police. She feels the police could have prevented her rape. The case is before the court now and is expected to wrap up soon. When it’s over Doe will have either made the police accountable for failing to warn her about a serial rapist of they will have publicly denied a rape victim the $1.2 million she wants for 10 years of pain and suffering. Either way the police have already lost, as much of the public support is with Doe.
But this case is not just a story about the big bad police against a rape victim. It is a precedent setting case that has some police officers questioning whether the public’s right to hold the police accountable has reached its limit. Every officer interviewed for this story agrees that police have to be accountable for their conduct, but feel they already are. Although none of the officers interviewed would give their name, they all feel Doe is going too far. They say it is impossible to warn citizens about every possible crime. If she wins, police fear the floodgates for lawsuits will open.
“It’s not just that it’s a civil case and she’s suing for money, but it’s the basis in which she’s initiating the lawsuit,” said an officer at police headquarters. “She’s suing because the police didn’t release information to the public.”
Doe believes the police should have issued a warning to her and the other women in the Church and Wellesley area that a rapist was targeting women in the area with dark hair and entering their apartments through balcony doors. The so-called balcony rapist, Paul Douglas Callow, pleaded guilty in 1986 to raping five women, including Doe.
She alleges the police’s systematic gender-based discrimination contributed to their decision not to issue a warning. Dow, Callow’s last victim, had heard about the previous attacks and testified in court that she would have taken steps to ensure her safety if the police had issued a proper warning about a rapist who entered his victim’s homes through their balconies. She’s trying to prove the police weren’t proactive in trying to prevent more rapes. The police chief at the time agrees there should have been a warning.
A report introduced in court raises concerns about how sexual assault cases were being handled at the time. Then-chief Jack Marks acknowledged a police warning should have been issued. Laura Rowe, an ex-member of the Police Services Board, tol the Toronto Sun that the police have been trying to establish policies to handle secual assault survivors with more sensitivity and the police have changed their policy. For example, posters were issued to warn women during the investigation of the Scarborough rapist.This is precisely why one street police officer feels Doe’s case is unfounded.
“Is her case about the $1.2 million she’s suing for of is it about policy change?” said a police officer from 52 division. He said the policy has been changed. “I understand why [the police] don’t settle.” This officer said he’s the first to admit the police are not perfect. Still, he’s afraid if Does wins we’ll see a lot more allegations and the only ones who’ll benefit are the lawyers.
“If someone’s car gets broken into, will he be able to sue us for not warning him about leaving his car unlocked in a certain area? I can see people suing for a lot more than a lot more frivolous things.” This police officer said it’s a learning process and since the police acknowledged their policy needed upgrading, the public doesn’t have the right to sue. “A warning should have been issues and things have changed. But it’s a learning process, not a mistake.”
So far, acting inspector Robin Breen has told the court that police reform is a lengthy process but they are committed to change. He pointed out attempts to hire more women and visible minorities in the mid-1980s to meet the “changing face of Toronto,” and giving victims increases status, not just treating them like witnesses.
As a counsellor at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, Anna Willats works with rape victims. She became good friends with Doe at the centre when Doe spent a lot of time there campaigning to get her case to trial. Willats said by changing their policies, the police are admitting to the facts of Doe’s case and therefore must be made accountable for them. “The issue would have seemed more pertinent if they’d settled it right away [in 1986] but it doesn’t help [Doe] any to say ‘well things have changed now.’” For Willats, one change does not mean it’s over. “Accountability must be ongoing. The only way for [the police] to learn is to implement an open way for people to complain. It is a long and drawn out process. In an ideal world we could all trust the police. We could all trust our parents and our hockey coaches to be responsible with their powers but the sad fact is sometimes people in a position of power will be irresponsible.”
When asked if the case has a potentially dangerous precedence, Willats said, “It’s everybody’s right to sue. I understand [the police] are worried about every Tom, Dick and Harry suing them, but the courts will decide who has the right, just like they decide [Doe] has the right. And it’s taken 10 years. I’m sure the police couldn’t believe someone would go through all this trouble.” Willats said the police need to be questioned by the public in order to keep them on their toes. “[The police] must prove they’re accountable by instigating a smoother way to make a complaint.”
The police receive around 1,000 complaints a year from citizens who feel they’ve been wronged somehow. Detective Dina Kalns, at the Public Complaints Bureau, said complaints could take anywhere from three months to three years to be investigated depending on the seriousness of the allegation. To make a complaint, go to any police station and fill out a public complaint form. An investigator is assigned to look into the allegation and present their findings to the Professional Standards unit. A board then decides whether the investigator’s ideas should be followed and if any disciplinary action is warranted.
All of the police officers interviewed believe that police accountability is necessary and the public has the right to complain to bring about necessary changes. Yet at the same time, there is a mood of growing indifference towards the public. To the police, the trial is just one more piece of evidence verifying the public’s eagerness to complain about the police. To Jane Doe, it’s about holding to police accountable for their inaction, no matter how long it takes.