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Former military leader Haydn Edmundson testifies, denies sexually assaulting accuser

Retired vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson arrives to court in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. Edmundson, who is accused of sexually assaulting a woman on board a navy ship in 1991, is testifying in his own defence. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Retired vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson took the stand in his sexual assault trial on Monday, denying that he had sexual or physical contact with the woman who accuses him of raping her on a military ship more than 30 years ago. 

The complainant, whose identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban, testified for three days last week. 

She said Edmundson was a senior officer and she was in the navy's most junior rank when they were deployed together in 1991. 

She testified that one of her responsibilities on board the ship was to wake officers for night watch, and that she woke Edmundson every second or third night. 

Edmundson's behaviour got progressively worse throughout the two months on board the ship that fall, she said, testifying that he started sleeping naked and leaving parts of his body exposed when she came to wake him. 

On the stand Monday, Edmundson told the court he never slept naked on board the ship and that he never exposed himself to anyone who came to wake him. 

He also testified that it was uncommon for him to be on a nighttime watch on that deployment because he was the ship's navigator. 

"Because of my rank and position, I stood fewer (night) watches than the more junior people," he said. He said he verified this by checking the captain's night order book, an informal but detailed record of the ship's activities created by its captain and commanding officer.  

When he did have to wake up for a night watch, Edmundson said he had a Timex wristwatch with an alarm. Asking for a wakeup call would have been a "backup to my normal alarm system," he said. 

Edmundson also testified that he was directed to retire in February 2022 after 39 years in the Armed Forces as a result of the charges against him. 

He was one of several senior military leaders who were accused of sexual misconduct in early 2021, kicking off a crisis that resulted in an external review of the Armed Forces led by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour. 

Edmundson stepped down from his position as head of the military's personnel in March 2021, when the allegation was made public. Charges were laid in December of that year.

The complainant testified last week that she was assigned to wake Edmundson one night in early November 1991, when she found him fully naked and exposed. She said she "went berserk" and yelled at him, turning on the lights in his room. 

It was one or two nights later, she said, that he sexually assaulted her. 

She testified that the ship was docked at a U.S. port and she was off duty and planning to go onshore with friends. She was going to look for her friend's misplaced glasses in the officer's mess pantry, she said, when Edmundson called her into his sleeping quarters to talk. 

The complainant said she was uncomfortable, but she went into his room to apologize for her earlier behaviour, then tried to leave. 

She said Edmundson told her she was not dismissed, and she felt trapped and frozen. The complainant said he complimented her, kissed her and then raped her. 

Edmundson denied Monday that any of this happened, testifying about his typical routine when the ship was in port and telling the court that he remembers spending two of four nights ashore during this particular stop, though he could not recall which nights. 

When asked by his defence lawyer whether he had any physical or sexual contact with the complainant during that port stop, he replied, "No I did not."

"Has anyone during the course of your career entered your cabin and had the type of outburst (the complainant) has described in this courtroom?" asked defence lawyer Brian Greenspan.

"Never," Edmundson said.

According to his testimony, Edmundson barely remembered interacting with the complainant during the 1991 deployment.

The Crown's case was dealt a blow Thursday during Greenspan's cross-examination of a key witness who had corroborated the complainant's version of events. 

The friend, whose identity is also protected by a publication ban, had testified that she remembered losing her glasses and that the complainant went to get them for her. She said she remembered looking for the complainant before leaving the ship that evening. 

The complainant had testified that she could hear her friend looking for her while she was in Edmundson's sleeping quarters just before the assault and while it was taking place.

While cross-examining the friend, Greenspan introduced a transcript of an interview she had done with the CBC before she spoke to police.

The transcript suggested that at the beginning of that interview, the CBC reporter disclosed important details about the accuser's story to the witness, including about the complainant searching for the glasses.

Edmundson is set to face cross-examination by the Crown on Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2024.

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press

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