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This article was published 7/12/2017 (850 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Winnipeg Police Service officer on trial for sexual harassment has told a provincial court judge he did not harass, assault or extort his accusers.
Remi Van Den Driessche, 43, took the witness stand Thursday, and denied he ever used his position as a police officer to try to get sexual favours from vulnerable women.
Prior to his testimony, Crown prosecutors Richard Lonstrup and Marnie Evans closed their case and dropped criminal charges against him related to three out of five alleged victims.
One of the women died before Van Den Driessche's preliminary inquiry began last fall.
Another woman testified last October when the preliminary hearing was converted into a trial before provincial court Judge Sandra Chapman, but the Crown decided Thursday the evidence the 32-year-old provided was unlikely to lead to a criminal harassment conviction. A third woman failed to show up to court to testify last week.
Van Den Driessche testified in his own defence against allegations stemming from the accounts of two women who did sex work in the North End, where the officer patrolled.
One of them accused Van Den Driessche of sexually assaulting her, asking her to show him her breasts in public and repeatedly showing up at her suite in the Sutherland Hotel wanting oral sex. The other woman accused him of harassing her for more than a year, calling her at home at least 100 times to ask her if she wanted to "hang out" and "get high."
Van Den Driessche denied the allegations under direct examination questioning from defence lawyer Richard Wolson.
"Did you use your position as a police officer to gain sexual favours in any way?" Wolson asked.
"No, I did not, your honour," Van Den Driessche replied.
He denied sexually touching or assaulting the first alleged victim and said he did not communicate with her in a harassing way. Of the second victim, who accused him of calling her at least 100 times after inputting her number into his personal cellphone, Van Den Driessche said: "I never called (her) at any time."
He told court he did stop the women on the street on separate occasions between 2011 and 2013, describing what he referred to as "spot checks" during the course of his police duties, and suggested he was only trying to be "proactive" about getting information from the women that could help curb drug crime in the Point Douglas area.
He was a police officer for about five years before the first victim accused him of sexual assault and criminal harassment.
Van Den Driessche described his policing style as "very proactive" while he worked in high-crime parts of the city, saying he had great partners who trained him to work that way.
"They taught me right from the start, no matter what call you are on... always be on the lookout for other crime, potential crime, people on the street. Interact with people on the street as much as you can, as well," he said.
Court heard there were 73 searches in an internal police database for the name of the first alleged victim during the time Van Den Driessche is accused of harassing her. Phone records showed 25 texts to her number from his police-issued cellphone and six return texts. Many of the phone calls Van Den Driessche is alleged to have made to her lasted only a few seconds, court heard.
He said she had given him her boyfriend's phone number, after he asked her to share information related to the drug trade.
Van Den Driessche said he was never able to reach her by phone or text and the reply texts were always from someone else saying she wasn't available. He said he didn't recall how many times he would have searched her name in the database, but said logins are often shared between partners when they do computer searches within their cruiser.
The trial previously heard Van Den Driessche hadn't registered the first alleged victim as an informant, despite her claims he referred to her as such when he asked his partner to get out of their police cruiser so he could talk to her alone on Nov. 20, 2011.
She testified Van Den Driessche took the opportunity to ask her "inappropriate" sexual questions and didn't ask for information about the drug trade.
His partner that day, Const. Percival Tabing, previously testified he waited outside the car while Van Den Driessche and the woman talked. "He said he’s going to meet his informant," Tabing said.
Van Den Driessche said Thursday he never used the word "informant," claiming he had only said he wanted to get information. He testified he had "very little" trust in Tabing at the time, and didn't believe he would be a police officer much longer. Van Den Driessche had 23 different police partners during the years he's accused of harassing the women.
Crown prosecutors are set to cross-examine Van Den Driessche on Friday.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, December 7, 2017 at 8:48 PM CST: fixes error in lede paragraph