ST. JOHN’S, N.L.—Demonstrators converged on police headquarters in St. John’s Monday, demanding the firing of an officer acquitted of sexual assault in a case that has sparked outrage and intense debate.
“Fire his ass!” about 200 people chanted as they held signs saying: “Not my definition of consent” and “I believe her.”
“There is no such thing as consenting to sex with somebody who has a gun on their hip,” said Alex Noel after speaking to the crowd as police watched from windows above. “It is a huge violation of trust.
“We need to redefine what consent means under the law, in the courts. Obviously our current definition isn’t working for us.”
A jury Friday found Const. Carl Douglas (Doug) Snelgrove not guilty after he drove an intoxicated woman home from the bar district — while on duty — and had sex with her in December 2014.
The St. John’s Telegram covered the trial, reporting the woman testified she could not recall if she gave consent. She testified that she had passed out and came to as Snelgrove was having anal sex with her.
The Crown argued the 10-year veteran of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary took advantage of a vulnerable woman, but the case turned on consent.
Snelgrove’s lawyer suggested the jury must have had reasonable doubt about whether she agreed to sex, or Snelgrove believed she had.
About 70 people protested outside the courthouse Friday night. Graffiti also appeared around the city over the weekend attacking Snelgrove and the force.
Lawyer Allison Conway, who followed the case but was not directly involved, says she understands the anger. Many people may want the law to better reflect a moral standard of consent, she added.
Still, the law as it stands allows that someone who was drunk or can’t remember may still have consented, she said in an interview.
“People are very upset by the actions of the officer in this case and I think that’s wholly understandable. The anger at the verdict, I understand less, because it is compliant with the law.
“I can understand why that might be frustrating but I think there has been some confusion as to the difference between legal consent and perhaps what we’d like consent to be.”
Conway has represented sexual assault survivors. She agrees there are challenges in an adversarial justice system that critics say perpetuates a “rape culture” of victim-blaming.
“Would we prefer consent in a moral sense to be a higher standard? Perhaps. But that’s not where the law is.”
Snelgrove has been suspended without pay since July 2015 and still faces a disciplinary process which could include dismissal.
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Bill Janes posted a statement Sunday on Facebook — his second since the verdict.
“Some members of the community have demanded that we dismiss Snelgrove immediately,” he wrote. “However, we are bound by the rules of the RNC Act.”
Janes stressed that the disciplinary process must wait until the criminal one wraps up, including a 30-day period in which the Crown could appeal the verdict.
“I do not and will not tolerate any unprofessional or unethical behaviour by my officers,” Janes said. “That would be unfair to the hundreds of outstanding women and men, both police officers and civilians, who deliver compassionate and ethical police services every day in our community.”
Provincial Justice Minister Andrew Parsons reiterated that support Monday in the legislature.
“I have every confidence in the police forces of this province, the women and men that do this job day in and day out,” he said during question period.
“We will not let the actions of one tar and feather the actions of the rest who do good work on a day-to-day basis.”
That being said, Parsons said the case raises legitimate issues.
“We’ve seen a situation where the public is upset and we will continue to ask questions, but I will support the men and women doing this job.”
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