Nunavut court: CamBay sex assault trial features conflicting stories
Court reserves judgment until Jan. 20, 2015
After listening to three days of conflicting and sometimes confusing evidence at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Cambridge Bay this past week, Justice Susan Cooper decided Sept. 25 to postpone her verdict judgment in the trial of a 45-year-old man facing two counts of sexual assault.
Cooper said she will give her judgment Jan. 20, 2015 in Cambridge Bay.
To do that, Cooper must consider the reliability of records kept by the local RCMP detachment in this western Nunavut community.
The RCMP records appear to contradict testimony from the accused, who said he was in custody inside the RCMP detachment during part of the time period when the sexual assaults are alleged to have taken place, on Oct. 23, 2012 and Oct. 24, 2012.
The trial was held Sept. 24 and Sept. 25 inside the Northwest Passage room of the Arctic Lodge in Cambridge Bay.
The 45-year-old man says he had ended up in a cell at the RCMP detachment because of his intoxicated state.
But there is no record of the accused staying in cells any time between Oct. 21, 2012 and Oct. 25, 2012, said RCMP administration officer Kate Chenier, who testified for the Crown Sept. 24.
Chenier said there is no chance that such an error or omission could occur, due to a system of cross-checks in place between the guard log and prisoner report. That would be a “large” problem, she said.
However, under cross-examination by defence lawyer Robert Falvo, Chenier acknowledged that there were various visible corrections on the list of people who had been incarcerated.
The accused had signed a statement saying that he had an alibi — that he was in the RCMP cells — when the complainant, a minor, alleged that at least one of the sexual assaults took place.
Also playing into Cooper’s future judgment: her opinion about the reliability of other evidence presented by witnesses, many of whom couldn’t recall when various events occurred.
In court Sept. 24, several members of the man’s family tried to recall what had taken place at a lengthy house party in late October 2012.
The man’s girlfriend said she had called the cops to get him Oct. 23, 2012, because he was too drunk.
The man’s ex-wife told the court that she later called the RCMP detachment Oct. 24 at the urging of their children, who said their father was in the “cells.”
She said police hadn’t released any information, but only said the matter was under investigation.
The man’s mother, a respected elder in the community, said she couldn’t remember anything about the events that night and that she had never seen her son, who lives with her, drinking with the complainant, who had also been staying with them in 2012.
In cross-examination, the man’s mother denied that she later made a statement to the police in which she said “this is in the family — it shouldn’t go beyond us.”
The man’s uncle, who testified in his nephew’s behalf, said he didn’t even know about the charges his nephew faced until he’d turned up Sept. 24 at court — and he couldn’t recall what happened.
The man’s son tried to offer a clear account of what happened that day.
But Crown lawyer Chris Punter later suggested during his cross-examination that the young man was not accurate about his dates — even according to a statement he’d made previously.
As for the accused and complainant, their versions of events also differed.
If anything was clear, it’s that alcohol may have muddied the memories of most witnesses.
A receipt entered as evidence shows the accused ordered nine 60-ounce bottles of vodka around the time the alleged assaults took place.
The accused shared that vodka during what, according to witnesses, seemed to be two lengthy house parties, spread between two residences in town.
Witnesses from the party — except the man’s son, who said he rarely drinks, and then only from peer pressure, and his non-drinking girlfriend, who also testified — said they were drinking Oct. 23 and Oct. 24 and that everyone passed out or went to sleep at some point.
Punter admitted there was a “frailty of evidence” presented during the trial.
And, in his closing submission, he also suggested that some of the evidence was “false and concocted” and that the man’s story about being in custody was “a fabrication and a lie.”
Although the complainant also had some trouble recalling dates, Punter said that through the investigation, preliminary inquiry and trial she maintained that two sexual assaults had taken place.
“The one thing that was irreversible… was that on two occasions she had been sexually assaulted.”
Punter said that, while everyone was drunk, the accused had a “unique and unguarded” opportunity to assault the complainant, who had come to live at his house after being thrown out by her family.
As for the alibi presented for Oct. 23 and Oct. 24, Punter said it demonstrated “a consciousness of guilt,” a legal term used to refer to actions a defendant may take to cover up an alleged crime.
But the accused’s lawyer Falvo maintained that his guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt
“The court has to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
The complainant, Falvo said, has a judicial history of making untruthful statements to police.
Before setting Jan. 20 as the date when she would return to Cambridge Bay to speak to the judgment, Cooper reminded the man that he must observe the conditions of his release, which include a prohibition on alcohol, any contact with the complainant, and a curfew of 9 p.m.
(With files from Jane George in Cambridge Bay)