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Sudbury officers cleared in incident involving pregnant woman, but police chief says GSPS has lessons to learn

Police Chief Paul Pedersen said service is making systemic changes in how it responds to calls
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Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen. (File)

Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen said lessons are being learned following a June 2019 incident involving officers and a pregnant Indigenous woman that was subject to a review by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.

On June 25, 2019, officers attended a call where the woman had filed a complaint of sexual assault involving one of her children. Police were also requested to assist another service provider attending the scene.

During the course of the police interaction, the complainant became very confrontational and belligerent toward police and the other agency, said GSPS in a report presented during Wednesday’s Greater Sudbury Police Services Board meeting.

Officers attempted to diffuse the situation through the use of verbal communications for approximately 40 minutes.

The woman’s actions caused concern for the well-being of others and she was accordingly placed under arrest. She resisted officers, said GSPS, and was brought to the ground in order for police to gain control of her. During the encounter, it was learned the woman was pregnant. 

Following her arrest, EMS attended and the woman refused medical assessment. Officers then transported her to Health Sciences North (HSN) via cruiser as a precautionary measure. 

Following medical assessment, the woman was cleared and later released from police custody on the same day.

On June 29, 2019, she gave birth to a premature baby who died the following day. 

The following day, the SIU was contacted by GSPS and started its investigation.

In a letter to GSPS dated April 6, 2021, director Joseph Martino of the SIU advised: “the investigation by this unit into the ‘other death’ of an infant that occurred on June 30, 2019, has been completed. The file has been closed and no further action is contemplated. In my view, there were no grounds in the evidence to proceed with criminal charges against the two subject officers.”

In his report to the Attorney General, Martino indicated the pathologist noted in the post-mortem examination that it was unclear whether an “assault” alleged to have been perpetrated by police officers during the arrest of the woman played a role in the premature birth of her son.

Further expert evidence concluded there was no definitive medical reasons to associate the birth

of the baby to any interaction with the GSPS and “the birth appeared to be related to medical issues, not trauma.”

Whenever the SIU investigates an incident involving serious injury or death, provincial legislation requires the chief of police of the relevant police service to conduct an administrative investigation, which considers officer conduct, procedures, training and equipment in relation to the incident.

Pedersen said the review determined there was no misconduct, nor was there a violation of any policy or procedure, equipment or training.

“We came out of it and found that our officers did follow procedures, they followed policy, they followed the training with respect to use of force, and there were no equipment issues,” said Pedersen during the Sept. 15 police services board meeting. “While there was certainly no criminality or misconduct on the part of the officer, there are some systemic changes we can make to try and mitigate these situations in the future.”

The first issue talked about was GSPS’ child-abuse and maltreatment investigation protocol the service has with child protection services. It was one of three recommendations issued following a review by the Indigenous liaison officer and an external partner with an Indigenous lens.

“We really need to look at sharing more information, so that we know a little bit more about the individuals involved, so everyone at the scene is aware of the situation, and of any previous contacts we have had with the family,” Pedersen said.

It is also recommended that agency debriefings be held after calls of this nature, “where all of the agencies involved can sit down and talk about what was learned, is there something we can do differently next time.”

The second recommendation is to continue to expand on and engage officers in Cultural Mindfulness and Mental Health First Aid: First Nations training, as well as joint initiatives. Training in this area should be re-visited with a goal of enhancing and expanding training and engagement with community partners. The objective should be to provide all members of the service with knowledge in relation to the social, cultural, educational and traditional development of Indigenous people, including their history, culture and tradition and the effects of residential schools, thus increasing cultural sensitivity involving Indigenous persons.

The third recommendation is to have the training branch provide refresher training on the

Rapid Mobilization Table Procedure, to ensure officers consider this process when dealing with persons and families in acutely elevated risk situations.

“Some of the recommendations brought forward were about sunglasses being worn by officers, body positioning, and being aware of just how sacred in Indigenous communities a woman with child is, and having to understand all of the social, cultural, educational and traditional issues that surround a call like this,” said Pedersen. “While we have been out in front of some of this training, we recognize there is more training we can offer.”