R v. Soulier – Inadequacy in the Uneducated Winnipeg Police Force: Jodi Plenert
This year, the “Defund the Police” movement exposed deep-seeded problems in the police forces across North America. This is not something Winnipeggers can turn a blind eye to; Winnipeg is not entirely “one great city”. There is some questionable conduct in the Winnipeg police force and much of it is rooted in its under-education. The lack of education of police officers is resulting in the mistreatment of vulnerable individuals and inefficiencies in the criminal justice system. The 2020 case R v Soulier clearly illustrates this. Abhorrent and ignorant police conduct resulted in eliciting a false confession and unnecessarily elongating the criminal process for a vulnerable individual.
Winston Soulier, a young, freshly eighteen, Indigenous man, was arrested for sexual assault. He had just moved to Winnipeg from South Indian Lake to attend Children of the Earth, a school for young Indigenous people. Although he had turned eighteen three weeks prior, Soulier had the language comprehension of a ten-year-old. He was diagnosed with a severe language disorder, placing him in the borderline range between normal intellectual functioning and disability. He has noticeable difficulty of word retrieval; difficulty expressing himself; a deficient working memory; and extremely low verbal comprehension — all of which worsens when he experiences stress.
This was Soulier’s first experience with arrest. On the drive to the police station, the police officers teased and mocked him as he cried in the back of the police car. During a six-hour interrogation, the police officer used complex language; tireless questioning; and empty promises, propelling Soulier into an extreme state of distress. He paced the room; wept uncontrollably; beat the floor with his fists; banged his head on the wall; lay on the floor hugging himself; and begged to go home. Soulier lacked the capacity to fully grasp the complex language employed by the police officer, and clearly felt emotionally tormented by the interrogation.
The Confessions Rule is a basic common law rule of evidence in criminal cases that enforces the balance of investigative measures necessary to solve crimes with the Charter rights of the accused. It requires that before a confession can be used in a trial, the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was given voluntarily. Interrogation is necessary in the criminal procedure, but the interrogator must uphold the dignity and worth of the interrogated individual. Each accused individual carries a varying level of ability, education, and life experience, and the interrogation process should reflect that. The Confessions Rule requires police officers employ interrogation techniques that avoid false confessions and, subsequently, miscarriages of justice.￼ There are four types of false confessions that can be elicited by police questioning: stress-compliant, coerced-compliant, non-coerced-persuaded, and coerced-persuaded. In Mr. Soulier’s case, both stress-compliant and coerced-compliant techniques were used. Mr. Soulier’s reactions to the interrogation clearly illustrate that he was experiencing intolerable pressures and sought any route to escape them. Coerced-compliant false confessions are the result of coercive influence techniques, such as threats or promises that imply dire consequences if the accused chooses not to speak. When Soulier refused to speak, the police officer insidiously recounted the story of a truck driver who chose to stay silent during an interrogation and was innocently locked in the Remand Centre for two weeks as a result: “‘Do you want to make the same mistake?’” With his extremely low language comprehension, Soulier understood this metaphor to mean that if he pleaded guilty, he could leave the interrogation and return home. The pressures of unendurable stress and coercive influence led Soulier to confess involuntarily.
For a different individual, this line of questioning may not have resulted in a coerced confession. The police officer may have used this technique many times to avail, but not in this instance. Here, whether Soulier committed the sexual assault or not, the officer elicited a false confession. This failure was not on the interrogation techniques themselves, but on the officer’s neglect in acknowledging and accounting for the accused’s known unique circumstances.
The police officer was aware of Soulier’s history. He knew Soulier had just turned eighteen three months prior and had never been arrested, yet he handled him like an experienced, hardened criminal. The police officer knew Soulier was an Indigenous man with little exposure to the city, yet he unabatedly interrogated him with a disregard for his life experiences. Soulier’s extreme difficulty with word retrieval and extreme emotional response to the interrogation were painfully obvious to the police officer, yet he did not inquire as to Soulier’s language disability or mental capacity. A sexual assault charge should not be treated lightly or condoned, but it should also not lead to the torture of a mentally compromised accused.
It is uncertain why the police officer responded to the situation the way he did. There may have been an element of racism, or it may have been an innocuous oversight. Regardless of the impetus, there was a clear lack of education on the part of the police officer. This is unsurprising as the education requirements for police officers are abysmally low. According to The City of Winnipeg’s website, an individual applying for police constable training in Winnipeg requires a mere Grade 12 Diploma or equivalent. Following the application, the individual must obtain a minimum score of 65% on a multiple-choice test based on grade twelve knowledge. Finally, once the applicant is successfully chosen, they undergo thirty-six weeks of training, only twenty of which are academic.
There is a major discrepancy here. In twenty-six weeks, police officers are expected to learn every strategy and nuance required to work with all sectors of the public, including vulnerable individuals. The Confessions Rule is one miniscule example of these expectations. It surmises a police officer will competently utilize effective interrogation techniques that respect every unique accused individual’s human dignity. Generally, working with vulnerable individuals requires post-secondary education; often, a bachelor’s degree in social work. Obtaining this degree from the University of Manitoba requires a minimum of three years of education. Most students study for four years or continue for a subsequent two years to complete a Master’s in Social Work. Each arrested individual holds a different wealth of life experiences, truths, and vulnerabilities. The likelihood that, in twenty weeks, a police officer learns distinct strategies for approaching and understanding this cornucopia of individuals, in addition to the other education requirements, seems improbable.
Sexual assault should not be exonerated and by no means minimized. In R v. Soulier, a sexual assault charge has simply illuminated the need for revitalization of the criminal interrogation process. Police officers require more education to protect the rights of all accused individuals and to minimize false confessions. They are not currently equipped to interrogate vulnerable individuals with nuanced approaches. Winston Soulier’s experience illustrates this. The interrogating police officer’s lack of respect and appreciation for Soulier’s vulnerabilities broke the Confessions Rule. He elicited a false confession. This rendered the police statement inadmissible, resulting in an on-going investigation. Due to this police officer’s inadequacies, the criminal process has been elongated. This creates a more time consuming and expensive procedure for all parties involved, and, in turn, places more traumatic stress and grievance on a vulnerable individual. R v. Soulier illustrates just one example of the inadequacies of the police in the Winnipeg criminal justice system. By illuminating these instances and acknowledging the deficiencies, perhaps changes can be made for the better.
1 See R v Soulier, 2020 MBPC 40. at paras 2, 4 [Soulier].
2 Ibid at para 3.
3 Ibid at paras 3, 12.
4 Ibid at paras 2, 8.
5 Ibid at paras 2, 9-11, 14.
6 Ibid at para 3.
7 Ibid at para 37.
8 Ibid at paras 48, 58, 51, 72.
9 Ibid at paras 55-56.
10 Ibid at para 54.
11 See R v Oickle, 2000 SCC at paras 33, 38 [Oickle].
12 Hamish Stewart, “The Confessions Rule and the Charter“ (2009) 54 McGill LJ 154.
13 Oickle, supra at para 32.
14 Ibid at para 7.
15 Ibid at para 38.
16 Ibid at para 44.
17 Soulier, supra at para 57.
18 Ibid at paras 59-60.
19 Ibid at para 45.
20 “Police Constable” (18 July 2020), online: City of Winnipeg <www.winnipeg.ca/police/policerecruiting/constable.stm#1>.
23 “Social Work - Fort Garry campus (BSW)” (2020), online: University of Manitoba <umanitoba.ca/explore/programs-of-study/social-work-fort-garry-campus-bsw>.