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Former military leader Haydn Edmundson faces cross-examination in sex-assault trial

OTTAWA — Retired vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson faced cross-examination in his sexual-assault trial in Ottawa on Tuesday, steadfastly denying he raped a woman on board a navy ship in 1991.
The former senior military leader on trial for sexual assault in an Ottawa courtroom is set to face cross-examination by the Crown this morning. Retired vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson arrives to court in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Retired vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson faced cross-examination in his sexual-assault trial in Ottawa on Tuesday, steadfastly denying he raped a woman on board a navy ship in 1991. 

Assistant Crown attorney John Ramsay questioned Edmundson for several hours, challenging his memory of that deployment more than 30 years ago.  

Edmundson has pleaded not guilty to sexual assault and indecent exposure. 

The complainant, who cannot be named because of a court-ordered publication ban, testified last week that Edmundson was a senior officer and she was in the navy's lowest rank at the time. 

The woman said the assault happened on Nov. 8, 1991, the day the ship stopped at a U.S. port. 

She said she was off duty and planning to go ashore with friends that evening when she passed by Edmundson's room on her way to get her friend's misplaced glasses.

She said Edmundson called her into his sleeping quarters to talk. When she tried to leave, Edmundson "pulled rank" and told her to stay, she said. She testified that she felt frozen and afraid. Shortly after that, she said he assaulted her. 

On the stand Tuesday, Edmundson conceded that it would be abnormal for a non-officer to ignore a direct request or order from an officer. 

"If somebody is insubordinate to a superior then there could be discipline," he said.

He insisted the complainant did not come to his sleeping quarters that day.

Ramsay's line of questioning was stopped Tuesday afternoon when he asked Edmundson whether he found the complainant attractive in 1991. 

"I'll suggest to you, sir, you may have had several women on board but (the complainant) stood out to you, correct?" Ramsay asked.

"In some ways, yes," Edmundson said.

"You found her attractive, correct?"

The defence interjected, citing case law that found this kind of question in similar cases to be inappropriate.

Part of the Crown's cross-examination focused on Edmundson's watch duties on the ship and on two documents introduced into evidence by the defence.  

The complainant had testified that it was part of her duties on the ship to wake officers for night watches by entering their sleeping quarters and touching their upper arm. 

She estimated she woke Edmundson every second or third night on the 1991 deployment, and that throughout the trip his behaviour became progressively worse. 

She testified that he began sleeping naked and she started to find parts of his body exposed when entering his room. One night, she said he was completely naked and exposed on top of the sheets when she came into the room. 

The complainant said she "went berserk," yelling and turning on the room lights to wake the man sleeping in the bunk above Edmundson. 

During his testimony, Edmundson denied that ever happened. 

He also said he was rarely on night shifts because of his rank and position as the ship's navigator. 

During questioning on Monday, defence lawyer Brian Greenspan introduced into evidence the captain's night order book, an informal record of night watches on the ship and a list Edmundson created of the night watches he was assigned to. 

On Tuesday, Ramsay pointed out instances in the night order book that suggested Edmundson, as the ship's navigator, had to be woken up overnight. Those were not included on Edmundson's list. 

Edmundson said it was possible the complainant could have been sent to wake him on those occasions, but said he did not recall that happening. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2024.

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press