Ste. Anne MD’s sexual assault trial adjourned again to locate missing evidence
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The trial for a rural doctor charged with sexual assault was adjourned for the second consecutive day Tuesday morning, to give Crown prosecutors time to obtain evidence the defence is seeking from the Sainte-Anne Police Service.
Dr. Arcel Bissonnette is charged with 22 counts of sexual assault for alleged offences against several female patients when he worked in Ste. Anne, a town southeast of Winnipeg, between 2004 and 2017.
He was initially charged in 2020 with six counts, before additional complainants stepped forward and he was charged with 16 more offences in 2021.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba barred him from practising medicine when he was first charged.
Bissonnette’s lawyers Marty Minuk, Josh Weinstein and Lisa LaBossiere said Monday they’re concerned about missing documents from the police probe, which began in 2017, led by then-constable Jacqueline Lawford.
Bissonnette’s defence team asked for an adjournment Monday so unanswered questions and missing evidence can be addressed.
“We have significant concerns in terms of the integrity of this particular investigation,” LaBossiere said Monday.
Lawford briefly testified Monday without being cross-examined. She was the first of 10 witnesses Crown attorney Paul Girdlestone is expected to call during the four-week, judge-only trial.
LaBossiere told Court of King’s Bench Justice Anne Turner that the defence team found large gaps in police reports, and only recently learned Lawford’s notebooks haven’t been located by the police department.
LaBossiere said those are key pieces of evidence that should outline all of the investigative steps Lawford took.
She led the investigation from August 2017 to April 2019, before she was seconded to work at another police department, which later led to a permanent job offer.
The defence received disclosures only from October 2018 until April 2019, LaBossiere told court.
Lawford testified that all of her notebooks on the investigation were put into a filing cabinet at the police department. She also deleted a user and email account one night. One deleted email account was retrieved, but LaBossiere said there were two accounts and relevant information could be on the second account.
LaBossiere said Monday that the Ste. Anne’s police custodian in charge of exhibits told the defence team the police service doesn’t have the notebooks.
Lawford testified that the account and email were personal and had nothing to do with the investigation.
She was excused from court Monday, and LaBossiere told the judge the defence case has been thrown in flux as new “things are arising” daily.
“I hope the court understands that it is unsettling to us. This is a very significant trial,” LaBossiere said.
On Monday, Turner asked the defence team to give the Crown a list of what specifically they want in further disclosure.
Girdlestone said Tuesday the defence had sent that list Monday afternoon.
He said there’s “one particular item” that requires information from the police service’s information technology department, and he hadn’t yet received a timeline from the chief Tuesday morning.
Girdlestone asked for the trial to be adjourned until Wednesday morning, which Turner granted.
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.
Updated on Tuesday, January 17, 2023 12:46 PM CST: Corrects typo