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Inside the RCMP’s Investigation into a ‘Well-Known Canadian’

The lead investigator was in close contact with the lawyer for ‘AB,’ but didn’t collect a statement or request a polygraph.

Amanda Follett Hosgood 11 Jul 2023The Tyee

Amanda Follett Hosgood is The Tyee’s northern B.C. reporter. She lives in Wet’suwet’en territory. Find her on Twitter @amandajfollett.

[Editor’s note: This article contains stories about trauma and abuse. It may be triggering to some readers.]

RCMP senior brass kept close tabs on a historical sexual assault investigation into a “well-known Canadian,” repeatedly linking the allegations to a freelance journalist and also linking it to what they believed was a failed attempt by another person to extort the man, according to testimony heard at a human rights inquiry.

Two days after the sexual assault complaint was brought to Burns Lake RCMP by a member of the Lake Babine Nation on July 11, 2012, the force circulated briefing notes that detailed the man’s accomplishments.

The updates went all the way to then-RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson, who would stay apprised throughout the 18-month investigation.

The briefings outlined high-profile positions held by the alleged abuser and honours bestowed upon him, describing him as a “well-known Canadian” who had “risen to prominence” and “remained prominent.” They also advised that a reporter who had written “highly critical” articles about him had contacted RCMP seeking comment on the allegations.

“If they are substantiated it will prove to be an embarrassment at a number of levels of government,” the briefing to the commissioner said. “The entire matter will likely be linked to the greater issue of First Nations and the Native Residential Schools.”

The investigation concluded in 2013 without recommending charges.

Although the allegations have been widely reported in the media, the man’s identity is now protected by a publication ban issued by the tribunal in September. He is referred to in tribunal documents as A.B.

Before rising to prominence, A.B. worked as a physical education teacher at Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake in 1969. He moved on to Prince George College in the early 1970s.

The July 13, 2012, briefing notes referred to the man’s accuser, Beverly Abraham, as “an adult First Nations woman [who] reported a historical sexual assault to the Burns Lake RCMP detachment.” Abraham told police that A.B. had sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions when she was 11 years old and attending Immaculata.

New details about the investigation that followed came to light during a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal inquiry currently reviewing the police investigation. Members of the Lake Babine Nation took their concerns that RCMP bias and discrimination influenced the investigation’s outcome to Canada’s human rights commission in 2016.

The commission investigated and referred the complaint to the tribunal for inquiry in 2020. After a series of delays, including A.B.’s request for anonymity, hearings began on May 1 in Burns Lake, with the first two weeks hearing mostly from First Nations witnesses. They continued online through June.

In Burns Lake, more than a dozen people from the Lake Babine Nation, Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation and Wet’suwet’en First Nation testified about witnessing or experiencing sexual, emotional and physical abuse at Immaculata. They described punishment, often for speaking their Carrier language, that included strapping, kicking or hitting children with metre sticks — sometimes metre sticks with spikes driven through them. The abuse left both emotional and physical scars, they said.

Witnesses described A.B.’s role as the “disciplinarian” and the “muscle guy” who frequently administered the punishment.

Whitney Dunn, a lawyer with Canada’s Department of Justice, which is representing the RCMP at the inquiry, told the tribunal that three police officers interviewed 37 people during the 18-month investigation. They heard stories of abuse, he confirmed, but ultimately concluded there weren’t grounds for criminal charges.

Karen Bellehumeur, lawyer for the complainants, has argued that police dismissed the stories because witnesses spoke to a journalist. She called the RCMP’s suggestion that reporter Laura Robinson had planted memories of abuse “dehumanizing.”

Bellehumeur also suggested that the investigating officer, Sgt. Quinton Mackie, would have faced undue pressure based on A.B.’s stature.

“You’ve got this very prominent, important person and you’ve got very high up people telling you this,” Bellehumeur said. “Now that put some pressure on you, didn’t it? Someone is worried about embarrassment of a number of organizations, including government. That didn't affect you at all?”

Mackie repeatedly denied that it did. But elements of those early updates featured prominently throughout the investigation and in its final report.

“Based on the facts uncovered, the allegations made by Abraham are not supported and can be considered untrue,” Mackie wrote as he closed the file.

“In reality Laura Robinson was trying to find anything she could to help in what appeared to be a personal vendetta against [A.B.]. Beverly Abraham provided the story for which Robinson was looking.”

Accused never provided statement, tribunal hears

Robinson was an Ontario-based sports journalist who had previously written about A.B. on two occasions, she testified, both in 2011.

The first piece she wrote was a 250-word review of his biography, she said. But as she began looking more closely into A.B.’s history in northern B.C., she learned that he’d omitted years spent teaching at Catholic schools attended mainly by Indigenous students, instead saying he’d arrived in Canada in the mid-1970s. She penned a second, more critical piece about the missing years A.B. spent coaching in Prince George and Burns Lake.

In March 2012, Robinson was contacted by a reader who suggested she talk to former Immaculata students in Burns Lake. She reached out to the local band office and began planning a trip.

A month later, in April 2012, Robinson visited the community for the first time and met with dozens of former Immaculata students. In the month that followed, she collected eight affidavits that alleged physical and emotional abuse by A.B. Among them was Abraham’s statement, which also alleged sexual abuse.

Class photos from Prince George College, top, and Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake, bottom, from the 1970s and 1960s, respectively.
Class photos from Prince George College, top, and Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake, bottom, from the 1970s and 1960s, respectively. Photo by Amanda Follett Hosgood.

That July, Abraham took her story to the Burns Lake RCMP detachment.

Abraham testified that her memories of sexual abuse had begun to surface years earlier, when A.B. began appearing on television. But they had become impossible to ignore after she moved home to Burns Lake in December 2011, where her daily walk took her past her former elementary school.

When she reported her experience to the RCMP, she felt disbelieved and re-traumatized, Abraham testified. The officer taking her statement repeatedly asked her to take a polygraph also known as a lie-detector test. She declined.

“Why am I taking a polygraph when I’m telling the truth?” she told the tribunal. “It made me feel that as an Indigenous woman I was not respected."

By contrast, A.B. never provided a statement to police. He was also never asked for a polygraph, the tribunal heard.

Investigator faced pressure from superiors, lawyer says

Mackie was officially handed the investigation on July 16, 2012, five days after Abraham made her initial report to the RCMP. At the time, he was a corporal with the B.C. RCMP North District’s general investigations section in Prince George.

During his testimony, which lasted more than six days, Mackie stood by the investigation’s outcome, maintaining that Robinson had been behind Abraham’s decision to come forward to police.

“Throughout the investigation, people were wondering why Laura Robinson had been there and what she was doing there,” he said. “Marvin Storrow put out that it was a personal vendetta against [A.B.] and, in my opinion, Laura Robinson was just up there searching for anything she could find to use against him.”

Storrow was A.B.’s lawyer and someone Mackie kept in close contact with throughout the investigation.

Mackie first made contact with Storrow by email on Sept. 11, 2012, two months after Abraham brought her allegation to Burns Lake RCMP. The lawyer asked the investigating officer to “kindly provide me with all of the written or oral evidence that you possess” about his client.

Mackie declined, he told the tribunal.

“He wanted all the documentation that I had,” Mackie testified. “Obviously, I didn’t send any of that to him, but I wanted the opportunity to meet with him in person, to explain it to them and see if we could get a statement.”

He met Storrow at the lawyer’s downtown Vancouver office on Sept. 21. Mackie explained the allegation against A.B. and the circumstances surrounding it, according to his report documenting the meeting. He went on to share details of what Abraham had told police.

Bellehumeur questioned the investigator’s decision to share the information with the lawyer.

“I’m going to suggest to you that you were getting a lot of pressure from above to use a process that was not the normal way you investigate a sexual assault,” she said. “That’s not what you're supposed to do, but you don't have any choice or being told to do it, right?”

Mackie disagreed. “This didn’t have anything to do with pressure from above,” he said.

Extortion allegations

Less than a week after Mackie’s initial meeting with Storrow, on Sept. 27, 2012, Robinson’s story broke in the Georgia Straight. The story relied on the affidavits she had collected about physical and emotional abuse in Burns Lake but left out Abraham’s sexual assault allegation.

That day, A.B. held a press conference and vehemently denied the claims, including the sexual assault allegation that had been omitted by the Straight.

A.B. linked the article to an incident several years earlier, when he said a First Nations woman had approached him, claiming he had assaulted her. “I was advised that for a payment it could be made to go away,” he told reporters.

A flurry of internal RCMP emails followed.

“[A.B.] just gave his press conference — denied everything,” Supt. Paul Richards wrote to Mackie and North District’s assistant district officer, Lesley Bain.

Later that day, the RCMP circulated an updated briefing note. It included a paragraph about the Georgia Straight article, incorrectly stating that it contained allegations of sexual abuse.

“Significantly, [A.B.] also singled out the reporter on this matter as having a personal vendetta with him,” it said. “According to his legal counsel, [A.B.] was so concerned about the extortion attempt in 2010 that he brought the matter to the attention of the Vancouver Police Department.”

Mackie had already determined, having heard it a week earlier from Storrow, that there was no connection between the alleged extortion and the current investigation, he testified.

But the morning after the Straight article published, his superiors asked him to “clarify some of the events surrounding the alleged extortion,” according to an internal document. If nothing had been done by the Vancouver police, they would ask them to initiate an investigation.

Later that day, another email circulated, which included an update from Mackie.

“The extortion attempt was not tied to the current investigation,” it said. “Beverly Abraham or Laura Robinson have not tried to extort [A.B.].”

But senior officers continued to pursue the allegation.

Three days later, on Oct. 1, an RCMP analyst searched police records for a report of the extortion attempt. None was found. “The incident [A.B.] states that he reported may require follow up directly with VPD to see if they have any record of it,” an inspector with North Division wrote.

The following day, Oct. 2, Mackie reached out to A.B.’s lawyer, asking again about the extortion allegation.

“I have met with our management team with respect to the media coverage that Laura Robinson has brought on,” Mackie wrote, before asking to speak directly with A.B. about the alleged extortion attempt. “We want to make sure that it is completely covered off and that it received the appropriate response in first instance.”

Bellehumeur pressed Mackie about why his superiors continued to pursue the extortion allegation after he’d determined there was no link to his investigation.

“Their concern was that the extortion was connected to Laura Robinson,” Mackie testified. “They weren’t sure whether Laura Robinson had Beverly Abraham involved in this.”

Bellehumeur suggested Mackie’s superiors were interfering in his case.

“They’re interfering with your investigation because you knew there was no connection between Laura Robinson and this extortion allegation that happened,” she said. “You knew that, and yet you’re having to take orders from the brass.”

Mackie agreed that he was being asked to carry out tasks that he felt were unnecessary. But he didn’t believe they constituted interference. “In my opinion they weren’t,” he said.

A meeting with A.B.

According to Mackie’s notes, his only direct contact with A.B. occurred several weeks later, on Oct. 22, 2012.

They met, along with A.B.’s lawyer and public relations representative, at a downtown Vancouver office building. The group turned down Mackie’s suggestion they record the conversation, which lasted 90 minutes.

The notes show that the group spoke at length about the extortion allegation, before going on to talk about Robinson. The meeting briefly touched on A.B.’s time in Burns Lake. A.B. said that he had “never strapped or hit any of the kids.”

With regard to the extortion attempt, A.B. told the investigating officer that, in late 2009, a young Indigenous lawyer, whom he also described as a disgruntled work colleague, had approached him saying that he knew a First Nations woman who alleged A.B. had abused her when she was a student.

A.B. said he was told, through an intermediary, that the lawyer could make the allegation “go away” for $5,000. Instead, at Storrow’s suggestion, he reported it to police, he told the officer.

Several months later, A.B. met with the woman, according to notes from the meeting.

“[A.B.] stated that the female was very detailed and graphic about what happened. [He] empathized with her for her hardship but again stated that he did not recall,” Mackie wrote. “In the end they all shook hands and departed on what [A.B.] believes to be amicable terms.”

Although officers reviewing the investigation would later recommend interviewing those involved with the alleged extortion, that never happened.

Earlier in the hearings, a woman from Lake Babine Nation testified that she met with A.B. in Vancouver around the same time and at the suggestion of a close friend's husband, the same lawyer who worked with A.B. She believed A.B. feared she would go public with the allegation, she said. That was never her intention — she wanted was an apology.

“His apology was, ‘I’m sorry that happened to you, but I don’t remember,’” she testified.

RCMP eventually contacted Vancouver police about the incident. “It was deemed to not be criminal and as a result no investigation was initiated by the Vancouver Police Department,” Mackie wrote in his final report.

‘Didn’t that raise some flags?’

A week after Mackie’s meeting with A.B., senior RCMP officers continued to pursue the extortion allegation. On Oct. 29, 2012, Mackie’s direct supervisor, Staff Sgt. Geoff Parks, prepared an update that referenced Robinson’s article.

“Investigation has revealed that Robinson and [A.B.] have a long-standing dispute which has resulted in [A.B.] currently taking civil legal action against Robinson,” it said. “With the pending lawsuit [A.B.] is filing against Robinson, the attempted extortion will likely form part of that lawsuit.”

Bellehumeur suggested that there had been no investigation into the relationship between A.B. and the journalist and that it was “hearsay information that was coming from [A.B.’s] staff, his PR people or his lawyer.”

“That’s the only place it came from, right?” she said. “Nobody looked into what articles, what actually was the relationship, correct? It was accepted by [A.B.’s] lawyer and him.”

Mackie confirmed that the vendetta allegation came from Storrow and acknowledged that “investigation” was not an accurate description. “I don’t know why he used those words,” he said about Parks.

Bellehumeur asked Mackie about the connection A.B. made at his press conference between Abraham’s allegations and the alleged extortion. “You’ve determined that there was no such connection. Didn’t that raise some flags about, why is he making a connection that doesn’t exist?”

Mackie said it didn’t.

In November 2012, A.B. filed his defamation suit against Robinson and the Georgia Straight. Robinson filed a countersuit. Neither legal case heard from the First Nations witnesses.

A.B. dropped his lawsuit in March 2015, before their stories could be heard by the court. In Robinson’s countersuit, which went to trial in September 2015, BC Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge did not allow the former students to testify in Robinson’s defence. She dismissed their affidavits as “hearsay.”

Robinson testified at the tribunal hearing that it was only after the trial that she learned about the RCMP’s belief that she had a vendetta against A.B.

She called the suggestion “ludicrous.”

“There was no vendetta. There wasn’t even any material evidence of a vendetta that I would have had,” she said.

Repeated attempts to wrap up the investigation

In late 2012, Mackie prepared to close the file on Abraham’s complaint. On Dec. 17, 2012, he emailed Storrow, again requesting more details about the alleged extortion attempt, and told him he was drafting his concluding report.

But it would take another year, and two more concluding reports, for the investigation to wrap up.

The first concluding report determined that the allegations were “untrue” and that “the police investigation was initiated by freelance reporter Laura Robinson attending Burns Lake and soliciting information from former students.”

Bellehumeur questioned its phrasing. “How did Laura Robinson initiate a police investigation?” she asked. “Not once did [Abraham] say that, Officer Mackie. She said that she was triggered by walking by the old site of Immaculata. She also mentioned seeing [A.B.] on TV. But never once did she say it was because she spoke to Laura Robinson.”

Mackie indicated that he believed that Robinson talking to Abraham had convinced her to take her story to police. “Our belief was that Laura Robinson showing up there prompted this,” he said.

In January 2013, Mackie asked Storrow to provide Robinson’s response to A.B.’s lawsuit, which contained statements from dozens more former students from Immaculata and Prince George College alleging abuse by A.B.

On Jan. 25, 2013, A.B.’s lawyer responded by sending the requested document.

Mackie replied, letting the lawyer know that while the investigation was still ongoing, a concluding report had been submitted to his superiors. “As I stated I will be forwarding a letter to notify you and your client of the outcome,” he said.

On April 12, 2013, Mackie received a call from Storrow seeking an update. He told the lawyer that the allegations had not been substantiated and the investigation was concluded.

But Robinson’s response to the civil lawsuit, and the affidavits it contained, had provided a new source of potential witnesses. Investigators continued to speak with them, Mackie added.

In June 2013, Mackie filed a second concluding report. He emailed Storrow letting him know that his report had been approved and he would be wrapping up the investigation. “I will be drafting a letter informing [A.B.] that there will be no charges forwarded with respect to the allegations,” he wrote again.

Soon after, Insp. Peter Haring, who oversaw criminal investigations in B.C. RCMP’s North District, decided there should be another set of eyes on the case. He asked two experienced criminal investigators from Alberta RCMP to review the file.

“In July of 2013, I recognized that this was a very complex file, and I was very familiar with the process of peer review,” said Haring, who testified before the tribunal. “Through criminal operations in British Columbia, I requested an independent review be conducted.”

On July 8, Mackie emailed Storrow again, this time to apologize.

“Unfortunately I have now been informed that the Assistant Commissioner of E Division (BC) has decided that this investigation should be reviewed by an independent investigative team,” he wrote. “I realize that you and your client would like to see this resolved and I am very sorry for the delay.”

In August, the officers reviewing the file responded with 28 recommendations. They included interviewing the people who had provided statements for Robinson’s response to the lawsuit and those involved in the alleged extortion.

The investigators also suggested Mackie “re-interview” A.B. and consider asking him to take a polygraph.

Mackie dismissed the recommendation. “[A.B.’s] counsel made it clear that [A.B.] would not provide any further statements to the police,” he wrote as a rationale for not pursuing it.

In response to the recommendations, the RCMP decided to split the file, carving off a broader investigation into abuse at Immaculata from the sexual assault allegation against A.B. Former students were shuffled to the secondary file, where many of them were dismissed as irrelevant, including a woman who alleged that A.B. had “groped” her while she was a student at Prince George College. The new investigation focused only on Immaculata.

In the end, Mackie determined that only four of the 28 recommendations related directly to his case. They uncovered “no new evidence that would help corroborate” Abraham’s story, he concluded.

Bellehumeur questioned Haring about the outcome of the review he’d ordered.

“I’m trying to understand the point of these recommendations,” she asked. “You say it’s important that they follow up. What if they don’t?”

Haring testified that he relied on Mackie’s rationale for not following up on some recommendations.

RCMP scrambles following leaked report

As 2013 neared its end, early drafts of Mackie’s concluding report made their way into the hands of media.

“Had a call from Global asking for an update. FYI they have interviewed [A.B.] and he has told them that the RCMP investigation has exonerated him,” RCMP senior media relations officer Rob Vermeulen wrote to Haring and Mackie on Oct. 28.

“They have a copy of a letter from April 2013 in which Quinton [Mackie] advises that no report is being provided to Crown in the Beverly Abraham allegations. I know the file expanded due to other allegations being made, so am wondering what update can be provided at this point?”

That afternoon, Vermeulen ran a draft media statement past the officers. It referenced the external review and the recommendations that the force continued to follow up on. “Our file remains open at this time,” it said.

On Dec. 5, Mackie sent letters to both Storrow and Abraham letting them know he had closed the file without recommending charges.

He called Abraham and let her know there was “no evidence to corroborate any of the information provided,” according to the officer’s notes. The witnesses they’d contacted had not been co-operative, he said. Some had been impossible to reach.

Abraham testified that she was “shattered” by the news.

“I felt so low, so shamed, so dirty. In putting something into this man’s hands, in talking to him, and then he turns around and says there’s no grounds [for charges],” she told the tribunal. “I think the RCMP are too chickenshit of [A.B.]. They still are.”

A week after Mackie sent the letters, on Dec. 12, RCMP media relations again asked for an update. A.B. had “sent that letter to the media and said that he is fully exonerated,” an email said. Reporters were calling to confirm.

“We weren’t aware this letter had gone out. Our last response to media was that the file was not yet concluded. Where are things at now?” Vermeulen asked. “The predicament is they are also asking if there are any other investigations into [A.B.] still active.

“Obviously we still have an open file and given we typically don’t confirm or deny our investigations it will be difficult to respond,” he said.

It’s unclear whether RCMP responded. News articles from the time don’t include comments from police.

Five months later, on May 14, 2014, the RCMP concluded its spin-off investigation into abuse at Immaculata. Again, it found no grounds for criminal charges.

Although 21 former students were interviewed, their “recollections are void of details for time, place, identity of suspect and any corroborating events that could possibly overcome these deficiencies,” according to a concluding report. Officers determined that most students described corporal punishment that was legally permitted until 1973.

Several provided examples of assault and abuse that was “over and above corporal punishment,” it added.

They told investigating officers that they had been deliberately locked out of the school in -35 C weather. They said they were strapped and kicked and had their hair pulled, and that they were hit with a heavy ruler with nails driven through it. Some witnesses described sexual abuse at the school, the report said.

The two officers tasked with investigating the secondary file are not expected to testify. They were removed from the RCMP’s list of tribunal witnesses.

The tribunal hearings were scheduled to wrap up on June 22. But they will now continue in September with testimony from RCMP witnesses who were not able to testify in June.

The inquiry is chaired by Canadian Human Rights Tribunal member Colleen Harrington, who will decide based on the evidence whether the RCMP discriminated when it investigated the historic abuses.

The complainants are asking for an apology from the RCMP.

They also seek $40,000 for each person impacted by abuse at Immaculata Elementary School and Prince George College, and that the RCMP divest itself of abuse investigations in Indigenous communities, replacing them with an independent group that includes at least one community member.

In lieu of counselling, the complainants seek funds to build a healing centre in their community.  [Tyee]

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