By Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press on February 8, 2024.
OTTAWA – The sexual assault trial of former vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson took a dramatic turn Thursday after the testimony of a key Crown witness fell apart under withering cross-examination.
The witness corroborated key parts of the complainant’s story on the stand, but by the time defence lawyer Brian Greenspan was through, the Crown had abruptly closed its case.
Neither the witness nor the complainant can be identified under a court-ordered publication ban.
The complainant testified earlier in the week that Edmundson assaulted her on Nov. 8, 1991, on board a navy ship. He was a senior officer and lieutenant commander at the time, and she was in the navy’s lowest rank.
The ship was in port and the woman was planning to go out with friends the night of the alleged attack, she said. While they were getting ready, she went to the officer’s pantry to get her friend’s glasses. That friend was Thursday’s witness.
Court has heard the complainant say Edmundson stopped her and asked her to come into his sleeping quarters, where he sexually assaulted her. While in his room, she could hear her friend outside looking for her, but she said she felt frozen and afraid, unable to call for help.
The two friends were getting ready together for a night on the town, the friend testified.
“My friends were waiting for me and I had forgotten my glasses in the pantry, so (the complainant) volunteered to go grab my glasses while I was getting ready,” she told assistant Crown attorney Juliana Martel.
But the complainant never returned, and when her search proved fruitless, the friend eventually left the ship without her, she testified.
She also told court that while she and the complainant had been friends in 1991, they lost touch with each other until 2021, when the complainant went public with her story.
When Greenspan questioned her later, he asked about an interview she gave to the CBC in 2021.
The complainant and the friend were both interviewed, with the friend providing corroborating information for the story. After that story was published police began an investigation, and the complainant and friend were both interviewed by police.
Greenspan produced a transcript of the friend’s interview with CBC reporter Ashley Burke.
According to the transcript he read in court, Burke explained that she wanted to talk about the complainant’s story, which she then proceeded to describe in detail to the witness.
“‘(The complainant) claims that aboard the ship when it arrived in ’91 in (the port) there was a night where she said she was getting ready with you to go downtown … with some friends,'” Greenspan read.
“And it’s Ms. Burke who then says, ‘And your glasses were missing.'”
Greenspan read more from the transcript, in which Burke continues to disclose key details to the witness about the complainant’s story, including “how she alleges that he sexually assaulted her, that he raped her.”
“Ashley Burke was feeding you all this information before you’ve even had a chance to say a word,” Greenspan said.
As the cross-examination proceeded, the witness grew ever more flustered. At one point, she denied learning the details from Burke, saying she got them from the CBC story – which aired after the interview.
Earlier Thursday the Crown called another witness, Richard Tremblay, who was named by the complainant as being another friend who tried searching for her the night of the alleged assault.
Tremblay said he did not remember looking for the complainant with the other witness, though he did describe a vague memory of the three of them meeting up on board the ship that night to drink.
After Greenspan finished his cross-examination of the complainant’s friend, Martel told the judge the Crown had decided to close its case and not call the two witnesses it planned to question Friday.
Greenspan, however, said he did want to call those witnesses. He also said Edmundson plans to take the stand in his own defence on Monday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2024.