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Woman testifies she froze, feared for her life during alleged sex assault by former head of military HR

The sexual assault trial of retired vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson, the military's former head of human resources, began today in an Ottawa courtroom, more than 30 years after the attack is alleged to have occurred. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The sexual assault trial of retired vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson, the military's former head of human resources, began today in an Ottawa courtroom, more than 30 years after the attack is alleged to have occurred. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by retired vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson, the military's former head of human resources, testified that she froze and kept quiet during the alleged attack, fearing for her life and the possible consequences.

"I kept running scenarios in my head … What if you yell? What's going to happen? Is he going to choke you? Is it going to ruin your career? Are they going to throw you overboard?" the woman, who broke down on several occasions, told an Ottawa courtroom Monday morning.

"I was so afraid at the same time. I was young … he was a high ranking officer. What would have been the consequence of me yelling, me pushing, me saying no, me not following orders."

Edmundson's sexual assault trial began today, more than 30 years after the attack is alleged to have occurred.

He is being tried in the Ontario Court of Justice by a judge alone. His trial in a civilian court follows recommendations by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour who, in a damning 2022 report about sexual misconduct in the military, called for civilian police and courts to handle all sexual assault cases involving allegations against military members.

Edmundson was one of several high-profile military members to be accused of sexual misconduct in early 2021, kicking off a crisis that led to the external investigation of the Forces.

Edmundson, who later resigned as head of military personnel command and retired from Canada's Armed Forces, was charged in December 2021 with one count of sexual assault and one count of committing indecent acts.

Seated beside his counsel Monday and wearing a dark suit, Edmundson has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing. His lawyer, Brian Greenspan, has said his client looks forward to restoring his "distinguished reputation for service to our country."

Court heard that the alleged assault took place on a ship as it was docked at a U.S. navy base in November 1991. At the time of the alleged assault, Edmundson was lieutenant commander, the navigator of the ship.

Edmundson, seated on the far right beside his lawyers,  is being tried in the Ontario Court of Justice by a judge alone
Edmundson, seated on the far right beside his lawyers, is being tried in the Ontario Court of Justice by a judge alone

Edmundson, seen in this courtroom sketch seated on the far right beside his lawyers, is being tried in the Ontario Court of Justice by a judge alone. (Lauren Foster-MacLeod/CBC)

'Source of frustration' 

The claimant, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, was the first witness to testify.

Under questioning by Assistant Crown Attorney Juliana Martel, the woman told the court that she joined the Canadian Armed Forces at the age of 17, and later worked on ships. One of her duties included waking up officers for their night shift.

She said on her first mission with Edmundson, where her duties included waking him up for his shift, nothing improper happened.

But she said on another mission in 1991, problems with Edmundson began when she would have to go into his quarters to wake him.

She told the court that over time, it became more difficult to wake him up. She said she found that odd, that "it was not his usual behaviour."

She said that eventually, when she would go to wake him, parts of his body would be exposed.

She said his buttocks would be exposed, and "even his private parts," and that he would also make moaning sounds.

The woman told court that this was a "source of frustration," that she found his behaviour disrespectful and eventually lost patience with him. She said at one point she decided that the next time that she entered his sleeping quarters, he had better be decent or "I'm going to lose it."

She said when she came into his sleeping quarters, Edmundson was on his back completely naked.

The woman said she "went loony," lost her composure, yelled and turned the lights on in the quarters so that the other officer who was sleeping in the top bunk could witness the behaviour she had to deal with.

The woman said she slammed the door, hoping that would attract attention. But she said that none of the officers on board asked her about the incident.

Vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson, centre arrives at court with lawyer Brian Greenspan left, in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023. The sexual-assault trial for the military's former head of human resources has been delayed. Edmundson has pleaded not guilty to one count of indecent acts and one count of sexual assault in an incident that allegedly happened in 1991.

Vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson arrives at court with lawyer Brian Greenspan, left, in Ottawa on Aug. 14, 2023. Edmundson has pleaded not guilty to one count of committing indecent acts and one count of sexual assault in an incident that allegedly took place in 1991. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

'I knew I was in danger'

Days later, when the ship docked, the crew members were allowed to depart the ship. The woman said before she left with her friends from the ship, she went to find her friend's glasses. She said as she passed Edmundson's quarters, his door was ajar and she heard Edmundson shout for her to come speak with him.

After she retrieved her friend's glasses, she said she went back to Edmundson's quarters, knocked on the door and entered.

She said she was nervous, didn't know what to say and decided to apologize for her previous outburst. She said that when she turned to leave, Edmundson said, "I didn't tell you you could go."

"I knew I was in danger," she said. "I was not allowed to do what I wanted to do, which was leave the area."

She said he started to walk closer toward her, saying that they needed to discuss her stormy behaviour, but that she apologized again and said she needed to go.

The woman said at some point she heard her friend outside his quarters, shouting her name, looking for her.

The woman said Edmundson put two of his fingers on her mouth and asked her how it would look if someone knew the two of them were alone in his quarters.

She said Edmundson kept complimenting her and saying how beautiful she was. She said he began stroking her hair, then kissed her on the cheek and then on the mouth.

She said she froze as Edmundson unbuttoned her shirt and bra, pulled down her shorts and underwear and kissed her vagina.

The complainant told the court Edmundson then grabbed her by the hips, turned her around and "proceeded raping me."

The woman said during the alleged attack, she heard her friend calling for her again, and that she had been joined by another male crew member who was looking for her.

She said Edmundson slowed down and told her "shhh."

"I was in distress because they were looking for me and I couldn't say I was in danger."

She said she wanted to yell so she "could be rescued."

Assault lasted 5 minutes, woman testifies

The woman testified that the whole assault lasted about five minutes and that Edmundson used a condom.

She told the court that when it was over, Edmundson told her she could get dressed, and he was pleased "they had done this and that it was good and that I could go."

She said she went back to her quarters and took a shower, and that another crew member noticed that she was crying but that she didn't tell her why.

She testified when she finally met up with the friend who had been looking for her, she told her friend, "I slept with Edmundson but I don't want to talk about it."

The woman testified that one of the reasons she did not report the alleged assault was because she had been told by a former recruit that if she disclosed what happened, it would end her career.

The trial continues Tuesday with the woman facing cross examination by Greenspan, Edmundson's lawyer.