Defence attacks witnesses' credibility, calls arrest of cop on harassment, assault charges 'a tragedy'

A lawyer for Remi Van Den Driessche, the Winnipeg police officer accused of using his position to assault and harass two sex trade workers, said Friday the evidence of the alleged victims was riddled with inconsistencies and could not be trusted.

Crown acknowledges victims 'troubled,' but says they had no motive to fabricate sexual assault claims

The fate of a Winnipeg Police Service constable charged with sexual assault, criminal harassment and breach of trust is now in the hands of a judge. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A lawyer for Remi Van Den Driessche, the Winnipeg Police Service officer accused of using his position to assault and harass two sex trade workers, urged a judge Friday to find him not guilty of all charges, arguing the evidence of the alleged victims was riddled with inconsistencies and could not be trusted. 

"I can't help but think of the man hours that went into this [case]," defence lawyer Richard Wolson told Judge Sandy Chapman during closing arguments Friday. "It's a tragedy that they have taken this man's life and turned it upside down."

It's a tragedy that they have taken this man's life and turned it upside down.- Defence lawyer Richard Wolson

Van Den Driessche, 43, was arrested in early 2014 and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, extortion, criminal harassment, and breach of trust in connection with five women.

By the end of submissions Friday, charges in connection to three alleged victims had been stayed by the Crown.

One of the alleged victims has since died. Charges in connection with another were stayed Thursday, after the Crown said her testimony was unlikely to support a conviction. Charges in connection with a third alleged victim were stayed Wednesday after she could not be located to testify.

Van Den Driessche remains charged with one count of sexual assault, two counts of breach of trust and three counts of criminal harassment.

In testimony last year, a woman alleged Van Den Driessche approached her in his cruiser as she was walking in the area of Jarvis Avenue around noon one day in September 2011 and struck up a conversation that quickly turned to sex. The woman alleged Van Den Driessche pushed her to flash him and later made between 20 and 40 on-duty trips to the Sutherland Hotel, where she lived, with the aim of collecting sexual favours.

Wolson said the woman's description of the flashing incident made no sense.

"She says her shirt was up for about 30 seconds, with lots of pedestrian and vehicle traffic around," Wolson told the court.

"A woman exposing her breasts to a police officer on a crowded day — it's just unreasonable in the circumstances and it's not Remi Van Den Driessche."

'She is not telling the truth': defence

Van Den Driessche testified Thursday and denied asking the woman to expose herself. He said the woman told him she was walking to a meeting with a women's support group. He said he checked a police database on his cruiser computer and found that she had recently been arrested for prostitution.

After some further conversation, Van Den Driessche said he asked the woman if she would be interested in providing information to police about the drug trade in the area.

"She indicated that she would think about it," and provided him with her cell phone number, Van Den Driessche said. 

He denied making repeated trips to the hotel, telling court he dropped the woman off once in October 2012 after arresting her on an outstanding warant. He said he went to the hotel a second time in June 2013 to again ask her if she would be interested in becoming an informant.

Wolson said GPS records support Van Den Driessche's version of events, showing no evidence his cruiser was at the hotel during the relevant time period.

"It's a major inconsistency," he said. The alleged victim "lacks credibility, she is not telling the truth."

Court heard Van Den Driessche called and texted the woman dozens of times in the months following their first meeting. He said he wanted to talk to the woman again about becoming an informant, but he never reached her.

The woman told court a different story, claiming Van Den Driessche sent her sexually explicit text messages.

But none of the text messages were saved and provided to court, Wolson said. 

"Wouldn't you think if this complainant was being harassed … wouldn't you think a text would be saved, even a text asking her out for coffee?" Wolson said. 

No motive to lie: Crown

In testimony last year, the woman alleged Van Den Driessche showed up at her hotel, knocking on room doors of drug dealers before he found her and said he was "just here to [collect a sexual favour]."

But there was no mention of the incident in her 74-page police statement, Wolson said.

"If that happened, don't you think she would have called police?" he said.

Another former sex-trade worker testified Van Den Driescche stopped her on the street "over 100 times" and repeatedly called her at home to see if she wanted to "hang out" and "get high."

Van Den Driessche told court he "spot checked" the woman five or six times. 

The woman testified Van Den Driessche asked her if she would be willing to be an informant and she told him no. But in an interview with the Winnipeg Police Service professional standards unit, the woman said she had never been approached by police for information, Wolson said.

Crown attorney Richard Lonstrup conceded the two alleged victims were "troubled," but urged Chapman to consider their evidence "in its totality," arguing they were reluctant witnesses and had no motive to lie.

"What do you do with the lack of motive to fabricate?… [It] is a factor for you to consider and I ask that you do that here," Lonstrup said.  

Chapman will render her decision at a later date.