Saskatoon police felt they lacked evidence to further probe teen’s sexual harassment report, file shows
Silvia said she felt crushed after walking out of the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) headquarters in the fall of 2003.
“I felt alone when I went,” she said, “and then I felt even worse when I left.”
She had just filed a formal complaint about her former boss, whom she alleged propositioned and harassed her. She told Global News he had been calling her for months and emailing her for a year. She says he stopped calling only after she moved.
She went to the police hoping to get a restraining order but didn’t know at that time that the same man, Dennis Robert Hall, was a convicted sex offender.
In 1981, a judge convicted Hall on two counts of having sex with girls between the ages of 14 and 16 and two counts of indecent assault against two other adolescent girls. Multiple media outlets have reported he received a pardon in 1994.
A police file, released through freedom of information legislation and obtained by Global News, states that Silvia “advises that Hall would approach her only wearing a towel” when she was 18 years old and working at his home office in June 2002. Hall was 56 at the time.
“In a separate occasion while at a high-school gym Hall approached her was with (sic) some friends talking about someone having a baby when Hall allegedly told her that she should have a baby and that he could help her with that. He reached over and rubbed her belly.”
The report also said, “there is nothing at this time that would lead us to pursue further investigation or have suspicions that charges may be able to be laid.”
Silvia is a pseudonym. Global News is not using her real name to protect her identity.
She is among about a dozen sources, including former employees and parents, who agreed to speak to Global News for this report. Some allege Hall behaved inappropriately but was never stopped from being involved with the camp, Young Athlete Saskatchewan (YAS).
Child protection advocates say it is the result of weak oversight and a system that fails to keep convicted sex offenders away from jobs where they can interact with minors.
Photos posted online in recent years appear to show he has continued to be involved with the camp, though it is not clear what role he played.
An email from a YAS email account to a parent in 2020 stated the Hall’s sons have owned the camp since Hall moved away more than six years earlier.
Global News has reached out to Hall and YAS staff on multiple occasions. No one has responded to any interview requests.
‘You just know the intention isn’t good’
Another teenager told Global News she worked for Hall in his home office after the camps had finished. She said she never returned after Hall told her she could spend the night if she was tired.
She was 16.
Global News is protecting her identity and is referring to her as Noelle.
“You just know the intention isn’t good when … a grown man is asking an underage female, or telling an underage female they can stay over,” she said.
Noelle also said Hall emailed her for a year after she left. But unlike Silvia, she did not report Hall’s behaviour to police. She said she just wanted the incident behind her.
Neither she nor Silvia were able to provide copies of the nearly 20-year-old emails to Global News but Silvia mentioned Hall harassed her for a year when she filed her police report in 2003, and it is not clear whether police tried to retrieve the messages.
Global News contacted a police officer, named in the report, who spoke to Silvia. Global News is not identifying him so that he could speak freely about what happened. He said he retired in 2005, two years after Silvia’s complaint about Hall, and had destroyed all of his notes in 2015.
He told Global News he hadn’t been able to continue the investigation because Silvia had not agreed to a videotaped interview. The report also said the officer had tried to reach her several times but never heard back.
Silvia recalls the interactions differently.
She said she printed the emails from Hall and brought them with her. The officers “looked through everything and they said there wasn’t enough to get a restraining order and to come back if he actually laid hands on me or touched me in any way.”
Silvia referred the police to Noelle and the officer contacted Noelle’s mother, according to a separate report, also released through freedom of information legislation.
“The mother indicated to myself that (Noelle) had suggested that there was some problems with Mr. Hall while she was in his employ and that at one point he advised her that she was fired and later indicated to her that the reasoning for that was because that he (sic) had feelings for her.”
In the report, the officer also wrote he left contact information with Noelle’s mother and hadn’t yet heard from her. Police did not lay charges in relation to Noelle’s allegations.
In a statement, Saskatoon Police said, “we are not able to specifically speak to the 2003 sexual assault investigations you have inquired about.”
The statement said the original complainants could file a complaint with the SPS professional standards division or to the Saskatchewan Police Commission, a provincial body. It said it acknowledges that sexual assaults are among the most traumatic crimes that a person may experience.
“There are no time limitations on reporting sexual assaults. Should further information regarding the 2003 complaints be provided, or additional complainants come forward, the SPS would investigate.”
Most people don’t report sexual harassment
Monique St. Germain, general counsel at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection in Winnipeg, has highlighted some systemic issues that she believes prevent authorities from investigating some allegations. In some cases, she said police might not believe the person making the complaint and fail to actively investigate.
She also said that when charges are laid, court proceedings could be stayed when the case takes too long to proceed.
And that’s just for the incidents that are reported. The vast majority aren’t.
According to a 2015 Statistics Canada study, 93 per cent of people who suffered childhood physical and/or sexual abuse never spoke to police about their experiences.
St. Germain said some safeguards to protect children have improved in the past 40 years, but that more could be done.
In 2010, the federal government tightened the restrictions around who would qualify for a pardon. In 2012, it did so again, replacing pardons with record suspensions.
“It’s unlikely that a pardon or record suspension would be granted today for the same offence,” St. Germain said when Global News asked about the conditions of Hall’s pardon.
St. Germain told Global News the system to track convicted sex offenders needs to be more robust.
“We should of course be focusing on getting (convicted sex offenders) to a place where they can go back into society and hold a job and be functioning,” she said, but “there is no right to work with children.”
She said another solution would be for judges to provide survivors leeway to lift a publication ban, which is a legal measure that prevents media from identifying people involved in court proceedings. Judges can apply them to cases involving sexual abuse to protect the identity of survivors.
“The difficulty is issues like privacy tend to get in the way of ensuring that society has the information that it needs in order to move forward,” St. Germain said.
Protecting the identity of children makes sense, she said, but “the trouble is … that that (offender) will then go into prison. They will come out and nobody will be the wiser.”
But survivors also can’t break publication bans.
Global News spoke to one of the women named in Hall’s 1981 conviction. She wished to speak publicly but a publication ban prevents her from doing so.
She played on a basketball team Hall coached in the 1970s, the Holy Rosary Raiders. She told Global News that Hall was driving her home when he assaulted her.
She says she didn’t report the incident until years later, when Regina Police approached her after the family of another girl reported Hall.
Now in her 50s, she said she didn’t know Hall reportedly received a pardon or that he appears to have been involved with coaching children until Global News told her.
She said someone who committed the crimes he did should not have received a pardon.
“It angers me that it continues,” she said, when told of Silvia and Noelle’s allegations.
“And it needs to be stopped. He needs to be held accountable for his actions.”
Another solution St Germain proposed would be to extend Section 161 of the Criminal Code to cover people who own and operate businesses like camps.
“But what might be more helpful, frankly, across the board would be some provincial legislation and standardization about what is expected of any organization,” she said, “regardless of whether they’re involved with sports or the outdoors or schools or whatever.”
And she added a publicly accessible sex offender registry should be created to help parents keep their children safe.
“There’s no one way to protect your child,” she said.
She told Global News it’s important parents continue to have conversations with their children about the people in their lives “because young people are not going to be attuned to somebody with a sexual interest in them.”
She said parents need to be able to ask the camp operator any questions and have that person respond openly and honestly.
“Parents can go in a pack to whoever’s running the clinics, whoever’s running the programs and say, ‘Hey, what kind of measures do you have in place to protect my child?” Wayne McNeil said.
‘We just weren’t allowed to go into the facility’
McNeil is the cofounder of Respect Group, which offers training and certification programs designed to eliminate bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination from schools, businesses and sports.
Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL player who charged his major junior league hockey coach for sexually assaulting and abusing him, is the other co-founder.
McNeil said the onus is on parents to investigate the camp their child is attending.
“The first thing I would do is go and say, ‘Where are your policies and procedures around child protection? Are you doing screening? How frequently? If you’re doing screening, I would assume you’re doing education. What is the education?’”
But a parent of a former YAS camper said she wasn’t allowed into the building.
Amy Novakovksi enrolled her daughter in the camp in 2018 after spotting an ad for YAS in the City of Saskatoon’s leisure guide.
Global News could not find a copy of the 2018 leisure guide but did find an ad for Young Athlete Saskatchewan in the 2019 spring/summer edition.
“It was advertised in the city programming, so I just assumed that it was a good, wholesome camp. And it looked like it had been around for a long time,” she said.
“It was communicated that … we were supposed to drop off outside the facility,” she said, adding that she had arranged to drop her daughter off before camp because she needed to go to work.
“And we just weren’t allowed to go into the facility,” she said, adding that emails and camp employees directed her away from entering the city gym.
She said that now, looking back, she wonders why parents weren’t allowed even to peek inside.
Kovakovski became aware of Hall’s history when she saw a viral Facebook post last summer, showing Hall’s photo and newspaper articles explaining his conviction.
Ultimately, Kovakovski said she now feels like she failed her daughter.
“As a parent, you always want to protect your child,” she said, wiping tears away.
“And I researched a basketball camp and I stuck her in it thinking I was doing something good for her … and I was sticking her in a place with somebody who had been charged with doing shady things to young women.”
She said she expected more from a camp that uses City of Saskatoon facilities.
“I would certainly hope that not just anybody can place an ad to run anything in a city facility without being vetted in some certain way,” she said, “and that not just anybody can open up a child-focused program.”
In an email Mark Rogstad, the city’s media relations manager, said Saskatoon does not disclose information about individuals or organizations that rent space in its facilities.
An email from Saskatoon’s media relations account said the city must have a current and valid legal reason to ban a group or individual from a public city facility.
“As a public entity we rarely have the authority to ban a group or individual from facilities that are generally open to the public,” the email states.
“Any decision to ban a group or individual would be based on legal authority. Legal authority may include a police investigation, conditions of a sentence, other court or correctional orders, active criminal charges before the courts or other such legal authority.”
McNeil said any municipality should require background checks on anyone renting their facilities and ensure whoever is involved has received proper education and certification for interacting with children.
He said predators typically set up their own private camps so they can escape such regulations, which can include using an alias.
“If you’re a recovering alcoholic, probably a good idea that you don’t hang around in a bar,” he said.
The woman who was coached by Hall in the 1970s said he should not be allowed near minors again, because she believes he would assault a child.
“He will always be a predator,” she said.
“He should not have the opportunity or the ability to do that again.”