Teen testifies about man touching her in West Edmonton Mall wave pool

The 15-year-old was the first witness at the trial of Soleiman Hajj Soleiman, 40, who is facing six counts of sexual assault and six counts of sexual contact with a child.

Teenage girl testifies at trial of man accused of sexual touching and sexual contact with a child

A teenage girl testified in court on Tuesday about being touched from behind in the wave pool at West Edmonton Mall's water park. (Facebook/West Edmonton Mall)

A teenage girl testified Tuesday that she was so surprised somebody touched her at the West Edmonton Mall Water Park last year that she initially thought it was an accident.

The 15-year-old was the first witness at the trial of Soleiman Hajj Soleiman, who is facing six counts of sexual assault and six counts of sexual contact with a child.

Soleiman, 40, was arrested on Feb. 4, 2017 after six girls who were celebrating birthdays with their soccer teammates complained to police.

The teen, whose identity is covered by a publication ban, testified from behind a screen Tuesday in Edmonton provincial court.

She told the court about how she was waist-high in the wave pool the first time she was touched from behind.

"Just surprised and I thought it was an accident at first," she said.

The teen, who was 14 at the time, then told the judge about a second incident in the pool, which left her with no doubt about what was going on.

"Just surprised again and annoyed," she testified. 

While giving evidence from behind the screen, the girl was shown on a monitor in the courtroom where she was sitting next to a therapy dog and a worker from the Zebra Child Protection Centre

Soleiman was seated next to his defence lawyer and an interpreter, who translated everything said in the courtroom into Arabic.

The girl explained that after being touched in the pool for a second time, she and most of the 16 girls in her group climbed a ladder to the top of a water slide where they stopped and talked to a lifeguard.

"I was kind of surprised it happened to so many different people," the girl said.

Girl points to accused in court

Prosecutor Laurie Trahan told court the Crown intends to show the girls went as a group to talk to the lifeguard and pointed to a man who was leaving the pool.

He was then followed by security to the men's change room and kept under surveillance until police arrived, she said. 

Trahan asked the girl to come out from behind the screen to see if the man who touched her was in the courtroom. 

The teen pointed directly at Soleiman. 

He didn't show any emotion in response. 

Defence lawyer Adam Karbani is not disputing whether the assaults occurred but said the primary issue in the case is identification of the accused.

During cross-examination, Karbani was able to confirm with the young witness that  there were many other people in the pool at the time.

Defence questions recognition of accused

Karbani said people often bump into each other in the water because the force of the waves is strong. 

In answering Karbani's questions, the girl recounted trying to swim away during the first contact. She said she didn't see the man's face because she was being touched from behind. 

However, she did see his blue swimming trunks and noticed the man was wearing goggles.

The girl told Karbani the man who touched her the second time "looked the same." She said she was able to get a good look at his face that time. 

When the girls at the top of the ladder were pointing at a man, she conceded that it was "not that close" and she could not see his face. But again, she noticed the man was wearing the same colour swim trunks, she said. 

Addressing the fact the teen had pointed at his client in court, Karbani noted Soleiman was the only person in the room "with brownish skin and a full head of hair."

Five other girls expected to give evidence

When Trahan returned for re-examination, she went back to the point about the frequency of people bumping into each other in the wave pool.

"Did any of those put their hands on your breast or your buttocks?" the Crown prosecutor asked. 

"No," the girl responded. 

The Crown expects five other teenage girls to testify. All of their identities are protected by a publication ban.

The trial, which was supposed to end by Friday, is taking longer than initially expected because of time required to translate everything before the court.

The matter is expected to continue through next week.