By Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press on February 7, 2024.
OTTAWA – The woman who accuses retired vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson of raping her more than 30 years ago on board a navy ship finished three days of testimony on Wednesday.
Defence lawyer Brian Greenspan’s final questions to the complainant, who cannot be identified because of a publication ban, hinted at what his client’s defence will be.
“I suggest to you that in fact on Nov. 8, 1991, you were never in (Edmundson’s) sleeping quarters … that no sexual assault occurred on that night or on any other night,” he said.
The woman replied: “That is incorrect.”
She was on the stand for more than two days of cross-examination as Greenspan tried to display inconsistencies in her account of what happened.
He compared what she said during her testimony with previous statements she gave to the police, the media and as part of a class-action lawsuit of military members who faced sexual misconduct during their careers.
She conceded Wednesday that her memory is imperfect.
“It’s a difficult process to reconnect pieces 30 years afterwards, when you have put this trauma in a vault for over 30 years,” she said.
Edmundson was a senior commander and the complainant was in a junior rank when they were deployed together.
She testified Monday that she was sometimes assigned to wake him for night watch and that she became very angry after finding him naked and fully exposed one night.
She told court that a couple of days later, he called her into his sleeping quarters to talk about that incident and he raped her.
Edmundson stepped down as the military’s head of personnel in 2021 after the accusations came to light. He has pleaded not guilty to sexual assault and indecent exposure and denies any wrongdoing.
In cases of historical sexual assault, there is often little or no physical evidence and the reliability of witness statements is often considered a central issue.
In this case, the ship itself has been decommissioned and sent to a scrapyard, and Greenspan said even the Defence Department does not have accurate floorplans showing its layout in 1991.
Using diagrams and photographs, Greenspan challenged the complainant’s memory about the layout of the ship, the furnishing of Edmundson’s sleeping quarters and the way the door to his room opened.
He questioned the woman’s shifting recollection of who was sleeping on the top bunk the night she said she found Edmundson naked and exposed.
She testified that she “went berserk” over that, turning on the lights and yelling to wake the man in the top bunk.
She had tried to identify that other officer during the police investigation in 2021, putting forward two names, but police determined both were incorrect.
Greenspan suggested that his client had no bunkmate at the time. The woman insisted that he did.
Also on Wednesday, Greenspan put forward a possible explanation for what the woman previously called Edmundson’s misconduct during the deployment.
She had testified that it took longer than usual to rouse him during her wake-up duties, and sometimes he made moaning sounds leading her to believe he was pretending to be asleep. She said sometimes he was not wearing underwear and she would see parts of his body.
Greenspan pointed out that Edmundson sustained a shoulder injury during the mission and was wearing a sling on his left arm for a month. During that time, he said, Edmundson was on pain medication.
The woman said it’s possible this was why he was harder to wake and making moaning sounds, though she did not remember that Edmundson was injured or wearing a sling.
Greenspan said his client could not have slept on his stomach or his left side during this time, contrary to the woman’s testimony about finding him naked on his stomach.
“I disagree with your suggestion that he couldn’t have,” she said. “The only thing that I know is what I have witnessed and what I have gone through.”
The testimony was at times emotional.
At one point Wednesday morning, Greenspan raised his voice and pointed a finger at the woman while asking a question.
She asked the judge to intervene, calling that a microaggression she would not put up with. Justice Matthew Webber asked Greenspan to take the temperature down and avoid pointing at her.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2024.