Edmonton

Alberta man who 'married' 15-year-old child convicted of sexual assault

Acquitted on a rare Criminal Code charge of taking part in a marriage ceremony with someone under 16, Michel Frank Bouvier, 59, was found guilty this month of sexual assault, assault and assault causing bodily harm.

Michel Bouvier, 59, acquitted on rare criminal charge of marrying person under 16

Michel Bouvier, 59, has been convicted of sexual assault, assault causing bodily harm and assault. (Michel Bouvier/Facebook)

The last time Ashley went trick or treating was in 2016. She was 15.

The teen returned to a house in Hinton, Alta., and sat down on the bed to sort through her candy. That's when the 55-year old man she would come to think of as her husband assaulted her for the first time.

"He punched me in the teeth and my body was so in shock," Ashley said. "It was blood everywhere and I kept crying and crying."

The following day, Michel Frank Bouvier staged a ceremony that he led Ashley to believe was a Cree wedding. The ritual included the use of a pipe, kneeling on cushions, praying, exchanging feathers and kissing.

"That's the beginning of the abusive torture relationship with him, all of six months of him and I together," Ashley told an RCMP officer years later.

The abuse ended in May 2017 when RCMP officers found them together on ceremonial grounds outside Hinton. Ashley had been reported missing by her family and was returned to them.

Bouvier, who was unlawfully at large on a long-term supervision order, was taken into custody and charged with possession of a prohibited firearm.

But Ashley wouldn't tell police about Bouvier's assaults for another two years.

After she was interviewed by an RCMP investigator at the Zebra Child Protection Centre in April 2019, Bouvier was charged with eight criminal offences, including two counts of sexual assault, two counts of assault, aggravated assault and two counts of uttering death threats.

He was also accused of taking part in a marriage ceremony with a person under the age of 16.

Michel Bouvier's trial at the Hinton courthouse this month heard from 39 witnesses. (Janice Johnston/CBC)

In Hinton provincial court this month, the now 59-year-old Bouvier was convicted of two counts of sexual assault, assault causing bodily harm and assault, but acquitted on the rare charge of marrying a child under 16.

The Crown wants to have him declared a dangerous offender. Judge Rob Shaigec ordered a psychiatric assessment that could pave the way for the dangerous offender hearing.

Believed to be first case of its kind

Legal scholars believe Bouvier is the first person to be tried under Section 293.2 of the Criminal Code, which came into force in 2015 to combat early and forced marriage for young girls.

"There is a complete lack of reported case law on this charge and further legal commentary and exploration of the essential elements of this charge appears to be non-existent," Bouvier's defence lawyer, Heather Beyko, noted in her closing submissions.

In handing down his decision, Shaigec said the charge "has not been interpreted, applied or even referenced in any case in Canada."

Shaigec ultimately found Bouvier not guilty of "celebrating, aiding or participating in a marriage rite or ceremony where one of the participants is under the age of 16." The judge said he had a reasonable doubt about whether or not the ceremony was genuine.

Even if the ceremony was a sham, the judge said the impact for the teen was very real. 

"[Bouvier's] actions were designed to make [Ashley] subjectively think she was married to him and this in turn contributed to months of control over her and to the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of her," the judge said in delivering his decision.

Ashley is not the child's real name. Her identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban.

'We're in love, running away from everyone'

Ashley's aunt introduced her to Bouvier in October 2016. Her grandmother was letting Bouvier stay in a room in her house at Maskwacis, 100 kilometres south of Edmonton. Ashley's aunt claimed Bouvier could give her spiritual help.

"He just said he was a medicine man and that he'll try to help me mentally," Ashley later told the RCMP investigator at the Zebra centre.

She thought Bouvier was charismatic. They slept together that night after he assured her their 40-year age difference was not a problem, she told the investigator.

Michel Bouvier will undergo a court-ordered 60-day forensic assessment at Alberta Hospital Edmonton. (Michel Bouvier/Facebook)

For two days, Bouvier forced her to have sex. Then Bouvier decided to take the teen to Hinton. He told her to lie to her grandmother and say she was going next door. He waited at the end of the road for her and they drove off.

"We were thinking, you know, we're in love, running away from everyone because our love is strong enough," Ashley said, according to a transcript of the interview.

Her family first reported her missing on Oct. 13, 2016.

Over the next seven months, police found her five times, bringing her home only to leave again. Each time she was found by police, she denied that Bouvier had engaged in any criminal wrongdoing.

"She admitted to lying," Shaigec said in a written decision related to the case. "In fact, her evidence was that she lied several times to multiple police officers over many months." 

The abuse escalated. Bouvier was jealous. He convinced Ashley he could read her mind. He insisted his ring finger would "burn" when she was thinking about another man. 

"There would be times where I would count days to see if he didn't hit me," Ashley told the investigator. "The furthest was one week."

She told investigators Bouvier threatened to stab her in the throat with his hunting knife. He delivered a roundhouse kick to her ear. Another time he hit her in the leg with a rolling pin.

I would count days to see if he didn't hit me.- Ashley

The only time she fought back was when Bouvier sat on her chest, choking her. 

"Then he stopped and he said he was acting crazy," she said. "He said he was sorry but then he punched me in the face again."

Crown prosecutor Aaron Rankin said Bouvier's behaviour was "as reckless as it was depraved." 

At the trial, Ashley testified she feared for her life.

"As six months went by, I started to not like it and started to get scared and he would become more aggressive in sex and it wasn't consensual for me," she said. "But I had to give it to him or he would hit me."

Accused claimed relationship was paternal

In total, 39 witnesses testified at the trial.

The judge called Ashley a credible witness.

"The reliability of her testimony has been demonstrated by the whole of the evidence in this trial," Shaigec said. "I believe her." 

Bouvier testified he took Ashley under his wing. He denied that he forced her to have sex.

On the witness stand, he insisted he had only spent eight days of his entire life with Ashley. For seven days he tried to help her, he said, treating her like his daughter. He claimed that on the eighth day, he saved her from a hungry bear. 

Shaigec rejected Bouvier's testimony as "inconsistent, contradictory and sometimes demonstrably false."

While Shaigec delivered his decision, Bouvier was watching via closed-circuit television from the Edmonton Remand Centre. Toward the end, he got belligerent.

"I am Aboriginal," he said angrily. "You have no jurisdiction over me."

He called the judge racist, a piece of shit.

"Residential school all over again," Bouvier said. "Genocide. Continued genocide."

Long history of sexual violence

Bouvier has a lengthy and violent criminal history dating back to 1978 that includes three previous incidents of domestic violence against two marital partners. He has spent most of his adult life behind bars.

A decade ago, a Crown prosecutor in Saskatchewan tried to get him declared a dangerous offender after he was found guilty of assault with a weapon.

Instead, he was declared a long-term offender in 2011 and put under a 10-year supervision order. 

According to a 2019 parole board decision, Bouvier was rated a high risk to re-offend both sexually and violently. 

"Your behaviour suggests you have expanded your repertoire of criminal offending to now include extensive grooming and exploitation of underage females for a new level of sexual offending," the decision notes. "You have twisted what you learned so you can present yourself as a healer in order to lure young females into a relationship." 

Bouvier will spend the next 60 days at Alberta Hospital. The case will return to court in mid-October.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston

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