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This article was published 8/12/2017 (841 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A provincial court judge has reserved her decision in the case of a Winnipeg police officer accused of harassing sex workers.
The allegations were denounced by the defence lawyer as "ridiculous," while the Crown prosecutor suggested they show the officer was "obsessed" with trying to get sexual favours on the job.
During the course of the trial, the list of criminal charges against 43-year-old Remi Van Den Driessche has dwindled from 13 counts to six, including sexual assault, criminal harassment, breach of trust and extortion. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and awaits a decision from Judge Sandra Chapman, who is expected to deliver her verdict sometime next year.
Defence lawyer Richard Wolson argued his client, who was a Winnipeg Police Service officer for eight years at the time the allegations were brought against him, is entitled to an acquittal on all of the charges.
Van Den Driessche testified in a "very straightforward and compelling manner" denying the allegations against him, Wolson argued, adding the alleged sexual-assault victim was inconsistent in her answers.
"She represents a tragedy in our society," since she was addicted to crack cocaine and was doing sex work to support her habit, Wolson said, adding the alleged victim "lacks credibility. She’s not telling the truth."
"Some things she said just don’t pass the test of common sense," Wolson argued.
The 36-year-old woman testified against Van Den Driessche last fall, accusing him of stopping her on a Winnipeg street in 2011 and asking to see her breasts in lieu of arresting her for violating a prostitution-related court order.
She said he showed up at her home at the Sutherland Hotel 20 to 40 times over the next two years, and repeatedly called and texted her wanting oral sex. She told court he sexually touched her, forced her to touch his genitals and stuck his finger down her throat.
Another woman, now 30, testified Van Den Driessche stopped her on the street and called her at home at least 100 times asking if she wanted to hang out and have drinks or "get high."
Police records show Van Den Driessche’s login information was used to search the first woman’s name in a police database 73 times, even though she wasn’t considered a suspect or a registered informant. Van Den Driessche is accused of using his personal and work cellphones to try to contact her. Phone records show he texted her at least 25 times and received six replies back.
The woman testified she was telling the officer to stop asking her for sexual favours, which he denied. The actual text messages were not provided to the court.
"He presented like an officer who seemed to think he didn’t need protection," Brandon Crown prosecutor Richard Lonstrup said, noting Van Den Driessche didn’t make notes about his apparent attempts to contact the women, whom he claimed he hoped would give the police information about "crack shacks" in the city.
Van Den Driessche testified he didn’t consider the interactions to be "incidents" worthy of note.
Police officers who were partnered with Van Den Driessche on days he’s accused of being at the hotel were not called to testify.
On the witness stand Thursday and Friday, Van Den Driessche denied all of the accusations, described by his defence lawyer as "an absurdity."
"He did not disintegrate in cross-examination," Lonstrup argued. "Presumably he knows he has a lot of explaining to do... when you need that many explanations, you don’t have an explanation."
Van Den Driessche testified he never went alone to the Sutherland Hotel, contrary to the first woman’s account, and the court has no GPS evidence from his police cruiser to support her testimony he went there 20 to 40 times in uniform.
"It’s glaring that it’s not there," Chapman acknowledged.
"You have to rely on the report as it is," was Lonstrup’s reply, referencing a GPS-tracking report on Van Den Driessche’s cruisers’ whereabouts prepared as part of the WPS professional standards unit investigation into his conduct.
Van Den Driessche was charged in 2014 after five women came forward. The Crown dropped charges related to three of them this week.
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Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
Updated on Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 10:49 AM CST: Updated