QUEBEC — A former Quebec provincial politician on trial for sexual assault told his accuser in an email that he had no memory of the alleged events because he had drunk too much that night, a jury has heard.
The email was entered into evidence Wednesday, the second day of former Parti Québécois member Harold LeBel's trial at the Rimouski, Que., courthouse.
LeBel's was writing in response to a Feb. 21, 2020, email from the complainant accusing him of sexually assaulting her in October 2017.
“Reading your words turned me inside out. I have no memory of any of this …. I remember waking up next to you and asking myself what I was doing there. This is a night of drinking I would like to have never experienced,” LeBel wrote in the email.
In another email, sent to the complainant a few minutes later, he invited her to dinner and said, “Your letter upset me, but thank you. As I had no memory, I understand now.”
In her email, the woman wrote that she had trusted LeBel, that she was extremely surprised by his sexual advances and that she thought he realized how inappropriate his behaviour had been before she went to bed in his living room -- where she alleges he then assaulted her.
The alleged victim, who cannot be identified, told the jury that she tried for months to forget about the assault and keep her distance from LeBel.
She testified that she preferred to “put it aside ... in a little box in my brain,” to focus on her flourishing career, especially because she knew how well-liked LeBel was.
“I was afraid that I would be the one who lived with the consequences of this case. He had a great reputation. Everyone was friends with him,” she said.
It was not until the arrest of former PQ leader André Boisclair that she realized alleged sexual assault victims could keep their identity hidden, she said. After Boisclair's arrest, she encouraged people to denounce abuse in posts on social media. It was at that time that she began thinking about coming forward.
"If you know something and you don't say anything, there could be other victims," she remembered thinking. She filed a complaint with police on July 24, 2020, and LeBel, 60, was arrested on Dec. 15, 2020. He has pleaded not guilty to one count of sexual assault.
The complainant was adamant that LeBel was not drunk the night of the alleged assault, saying he had three or four gin and tonics.
"Harold seemed very normal. We had serious discussions ... very coherent speech. He was not someone who was intoxicated," she testified.
She has testified that LeBel became "aggressive" when she refused his advances, that he unhooked her bra and insisted on entering a bathroom where she had taken refuge.
She alleges he then joined her in a Murphy bed where he touched her buttocks and anus repeatedly for several hours. The complainant testified that she remained frozen and silent, waiting for him to finish touching her.
In her email to LeBel, the woman wrote that she was immobilized by fear and incomprehension.
Under cross-examination, the complainant conceded she could have rented a hotel room, instead of sleeping at LeBel's home with a friend, who was sleeping in another room at the time of the alleged acts.
Defence lawyer Maxime Roy asked the woman why she didn't wake her friend if she was so afraid.
"Your girlfriend is there, she is in another room ... she is there and you're not going see her," he said.
The lawyer then asked if she had thought about going to sleep with her friend, instead of on the Murphy bed in LeBel's living room.
"I thought the situation was over," she responded, adding that she thought LeBel had got the message that she was not interested.
Roy then suggested her memory of the evening was "inaccurate."
"I suggest to you, ma'am, that in fact, Mr. LeBel never fondled your buttocks, nor the crack of your buttocks, and that he did not insert his finger into your anus," he said, adding that LeBel "never unhooked your bra."
"That's false," she replied.
LeBel's lawyer then suggested the only thing that really happened is that LeBel fell asleep.
"Absolutely not," replied the complainant.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2022.
Caroline Plante, The Canadian Press