Crown grills ex-Woodstock mayor about claims the woman accusing him of sexual assault was 'clingy, irrational'

Former Woodstock, Ont., mayor Trevor Birtch, who's on trial this week on sexual assault charges, leaves the London courthouse on Tuesday. (Kendra Seguin/CBC - image credit)
Former Woodstock, Ont., mayor Trevor Birtch, who's on trial this week on sexual assault charges, leaves the London courthouse on Tuesday. (Kendra Seguin/CBC - image credit)

Warning: This story contains graphic details of alleged sexual assaults.

A Crown lawyer who cross-examined Trevor Birtch on Tuesday said the former Woodstock, Ont., mayor's testimony aimed to show the court that the woman accusing him of sexual assault was "clingy, irrational and unreasonable."

Birtch, 49, was in the witness box on the second day of his trial in London and testified about each of the three alleged incidents involving the woman he began dating in April 2020. He said the woman, whose name is protected under a publication ban, refused to let him break up with her and would threaten him whenever he tried to call it off.

"I tried so many times to let her down easy because of these threats," Birtch said during Artem Orlov's cross-examination. "That was her pattern — exploding very quickly when things didn't go her way."

Birtch said he and the woman got along well in the early days of their relationship and shared similar interests, but things began to change during their ride home in July 2021 after she saw him receive phone calls from another woman.

"She grabbed [my phone] to see who it was, saw the name and went into a fit of rage," he said. "She threw the phone, started hitting me, pushing stuff around the car and punching the dash, and it wasn't looking good."

Birtch said the woman drank a lot of alcohol that day and was stumbling as she walked. When he dropped her off at home in Woodstock later that night, she refused to get out of the car and kicked the passenger side of his Nissan Leaf twice, leaving dents.

Birtch told Orlov that the woman's pattern of "explosive outbursts" first started in February 2021 when the pair stayed at the Idlewyld Inn & Spa in London for Valentine's Day, adding that things were great in the beginning and there would be nothing more than minor disagreements.

The trial, overseen by Superior Court Justice Michael Carnegie, is scheduled to run for four days.

Not guilty pleas entered

On Monday, Birtch entered not guilty pleas to two counts of sexual assault and one count of assault stemming from allegations made between Feb. 14 and Dec. 13, 2021. He was charged in February 2022 and stepped down from his second term as mayor several months later.

While testifying, Birtch maintained he never hit the woman or asked her for oral sex. He said he tried to "break up with her in the nicest way possible," but the woman would get "into a rage" and would threaten him, often creating a scene in front of his neighbours, and she'd get upset if he refused sex.

During his cross-examination of Birtch, Orlov pointed to the ex-mayor's repeated use of the term "fit of rage" to describe the woman's behaviour and questioned how Birtch reacted when the woman hit him and whether he resisted.

Birtch said he didn't resist because he doesn't fight against females.

"I didn't let her [hit Birtch]; she did it and I told her to stop. I had marks on my face from the slap the next day."

Defence cross-examines woman

Earlier Tuesday, Birtch's lawyer, James Battin, cross-examined the woman about her rocky relationship with Birtch and the specific dates and times for each of the assault charges.

In two of the three occurrences, the woman insisted she didn't have recollection of the exact dates and times the alleged incidents happened.

"I wish I could remember the exact date and time, but quite frankly, that whole event is a blur," she said through tears.

As a result, the court agreed to expand the timeframe of the third alleged incident in December 2021 to read between Dec. 10 and Dec. 31, 2021, to align with text message exchanges between Birtch and the woman that were submitted as evidence.

Birtch said that by December, he and the woman were no longer in a relationship but remained friends. His last in-person interaction with the woman was Dec. 13, 2021, he said.

In her testimony on Monday, the woman said Birtch's behaviour suddenly turned from friendly and compassionate to angry and hostile on two occasions after she declined his request to perform oral sex on him.

Lawyer asks woman for places, times

Battin asked the woman to specify where she and Birtch went, as well as the times, when the first alleged assault occurred in July 2021. The woman maintained she doesn't remember details of the time and roads they were driving on in Birtch's vehicle.

"I believe it was in July but I'm not very acutely aware of dates per se as opposed to what the actions were," she said. "It was a very stressful moment for me."

Battin asked if the woman became angry after seeing Birtch receive phone calls from other women, which she continuously denied.

The woman testified earlier that Birtch left her outside a church for about 40 minutes before returning to get her and heading back to Woodstock. The defence asked if she was still upset when Birtch returned.

"I was upset, I was upset for being left behind. I did remain in the vehicle because I had some questions about what transpired at the church and why I was abandoned," she responded.

Travis Dolynny/CBC
Travis Dolynny/CBC

When questioning the woman on the second count from Feb. 14, 2021, Battin suggested that she pulled Birtch's hair and gave him a black eye while the two were in bed at the London spa. He also suggested the woman threatened to send bikers after Birtch if he broke up with her.

The woman rejected those suggestions, insisting Birtch came back from a previous road trip with a black eye. The next morning, his demeanour became "more lighter and acceptive," she said.

She said consuming alcohol was common with Birtch, adding he always had a drink open and ready for her every time she entered his vehicle.

3rd incident 'the worst,' witness testifies

The woman said the third and final occurrence took place sometime between Dec. 10 and Dec. 15, 2021, most likely on the 13th. She said the two planned to meet at Birtch's Woodstock house after she finished work that evening but she arrived to find a red van parked on the driveway.

Birtch told the woman the vehicle belonged to a woman from his church who was counselling him for his addiction issues — something she believed at first, she said. Battin, however, insisted that Birtch never invited her to his home and suggested she tried to break into his bedroom door.

The woman said she did climb on top of his car to get to his room so she wouldn't wake up his young son, who was living with Birtch at the time. She said Birtch told her to meet Dec. 15 to explain to her about the red van.

"It was then when we had the chat that the worst moment occurred between us," she said.

Birtch said the woman "broke into his house" on Dec. 13 and started throwing things around, at which point his son, who was 16 at the time, told her she's no longer welcome in the house and escorted her out of their house.

Photos of bruises shown in court

Battin then showed the court several exhibits, which included photos of bruises on the right side of the woman's body, and text message exchanges between her and Birtch. She started crying but refused to take a break when offered one by the judge.

Kendra Seguin/CBC
Kendra Seguin/CBC

The woman said she took photos of her bruises within 24 hours of when he kicked her out of his car and she fell to the ground in July 2021. But the defence said there was no date on that photograph and Birtch was not sent those photos until he saw them as evidence through the Crown's office.

"As I mentioned, it would've been within the first 24 hrs of being thrown out of his car, sometime in July," she said. "My mind has blocked a lot of this out for obvious reasons because this hurts. All photos were taken in succession of each other because Mr. Birtch denied there were any bruises after I had been thrown out of the vehicle."

For anyone who has been sexually assaulted, there is support available through crisis lines and local support services via the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.