Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City cop focus of investigation

Charges include sex assault, extortion — prostitutes among alleged victims

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They are among the most vulnerable of society: sex-trade workers often targeted for harassment and violence.

Now a lengthy Winnipeg police investigation has revealed five women in the city's low-track area were allegedly victimized by an officer.

Const. Remi Van Den Driessche, 39, has been accused of abusing his position by trying to coerce and intimidate women into sexual relationships over a nearly two-year period.

Van Den Driessche was arrested this week and hit with nine counts including sexual assault, breach of trust, extortion and criminal harassment. He was released on a promise to appear in court and placed on administrative leave. None of the allegations has been proven and he is presumed innocent.

Police have refused to provide additional details, only to say they involve "on- and off-duty conduct" that has been the subject of a lengthy investigation that began in June 2013 by the professional standards unit and included consultation with senior justice officials.

Court documents obtained by the Free Press reveal several other details about the allegations, which run between November 2011 and September 2013.

The most serious charge involves an allegation Van Den Driessche "repeatedly" sexually assaulted one victim over a 22-month span and committed a breach of trust for "using his position as a police officer to attempt to gain sexual favours" from the same woman. He is also charged with harassing and extorting her.

Court documents show the woman is 32 years old and no stranger to police. She was charged in March 2012 with communicating for the purpose of prostitution. The charge was dropped by the Crown at about the same time police began investigating Van Den Driessche for his alleged conduct with the woman.

Her background shows she was living a transient lifestyle at the time, with a Main Street rooming house listed in court papers as her address.

Van Den Driessche is accused of trying to convince another woman to have sex through a similar breach of trust and extortion allegations. That alleged victim, age 27, has been charged several times with prostitution-related offences, court records show. She also had a communication charge dropped by the Crown in June 2013. Whether that is connected to this investigation is not clear.

The other three women named in the charges were all allegedly harassed by Van Den Driessche, but there are no allegations involving breaches of trust or extortion for sex. They include a 29-year-old woman with a previous criminal record including drug charges, a 24-year-old woman who is currently pending on a robbery charge and another woman with no previous legal history.

"We haven't had a chance to go through this yet. It's an allegation, it's a process. We look forward to seeing a fair trial. That's all we can hope for," George Van Mackelberg, the vice-president of the Winnipeg Police Association, told the Free Press on Tuesday.

Van Den Driessche is an eight-year member with the Winnipeg Police Service who had been working out of the District 3 station.

Court records show he is a divorced father of three young children who went through a custody battle in 2011. He was described in court as a caring father who was trying to juggle parental responsibilities around his busy shift-work schedule.

It was also stated he was involved in a new relationship with a woman who had two young children of her own.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2014 A3

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