Nova Scotia

Trial of former Bridgewater police chief accused of sex assault resumes

The trial of the former Bridgewater, N.S., police chief accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl resumed Monday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court after a break of almost two months.

WARNING: This story contains graphic content describing an alleged sexual assault

John and Sheri Collyer in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Bridgewater in July. (CBC)

The trial of the former Bridgewater, N.S., police chief accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl resumed Monday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court after a break of almost two months.

John Collyer faces charges of sexual assault and sexual exploitation in relation to a complainant who was 17 at the time of the alleged 2016 assault. The woman is now 20 and cannot be identified due to a publication ban.

On Monday afternoon, Collyer's wife, Sheri Collyer, took the stand. She testified for the defence about how she and her husband developed a close relationship with the complainant's family, and how the complainant looked to her husband as a "father figure."

In July, the complainant told the court she was riding in the passenger seat of Collyer's car when he reached over and put his fingers inside her shorts and underwear, then into her vagina.

The court also heard from the complainant's mother, a family friend, and her doctor. They testified they discovered inappropriate sexual Facebook messages between Collyer and the teenager.

Collyer was officially removed from the Bridgewater Police Service payroll on Aug. 11, 2018. (CBC)

On Monday during cross-examination, Sheri Collyer testified she saw the Facebook messages and agreed they were inappropriate and some could have been interpreted in a sexual context.

She said she talked to her husband about the messages and was concerned he was sending them. However, she said she was unconcerned by her husband's relationship with the complainant.

John Collyer is expected to take the stand Tuesday as the final defence witness.

Collyer was suspended in May 2017 after he was charged by SIRT, and officially removed from the Bridgewater Police Service payroll on Aug. 11, 2018.

Psychiatrist's assessment

The final Crown witness Monday morning was Dr. Jean Stephanie Casey, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who did two assessments on the complainant over a series of appointments between 2015 and 2017.

Casey testified that during the first assessment, the complainant was more than 16 years old, but acted younger than her years due to a number of disorders, such as ADHD.

The psychiatrist said the complainant's behaviour at that time put her at "an emotional or intellectual age of between 10 and 12."

Casey testified the complainant's ability to understand sexual intimacy was also immature, which included things like the ability to understand adult relationships.

Defence lawyer David Bright suggested in court that the complainant might have the ability to manipulate other people, make up stories and pretend they were true. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

"[She] would be much more vulnerable to experiences that would put her in harm's way," Casey said, adding that young people who are sexually immature often struggle with how to use the internet correctly.

Under cross-examination, Casey said she noticed the complainant had "no filter" at the time and tended to blurt out whatever was on her mind, regardless of whether it was appropriate.

Defence lawyer David Bright suggested to Casey that the complainant might have the ability to manipulate other people, make up stories and pretend they were true.

Casey said she had no knowledge of the complainant doing so, but agreed the complainant's mental abilities wouldn't stop her from acting in that way.

'A more vulnerable person'

Crown lawyer Roland Levesque told reporters outside court it was important to hear from Casey so the court would understand the complainant's mental state.

"A person who's not operating at the biological or chronological age that she is, but at a younger age, is a more vulnerable person," said Levesque. 
Crown lawyer Roland Levesque, left, walks with defence lawyer David Bright at the Bridgewater courthouse. (CBC)

"You're having a situation where you're not dealing with a person who is acting as you would normally expect a person of that age to act, and is more so acting as a child. And I think that has a quite important impact on the judge's assessment of the complainant's testimony."

The trial was originally supposed to wrap up in July, but a full additional week was added because the trial progressed slower than the Crown anticipated.

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