RIMOUSKI, Que. — Former Parti Québécois legislator Harold LeBel was found guilty on Wednesday of sexually assaulting a woman at his residence in 2017.
A jury of nine women and three men took two days to reach a decision after being sequestered since Monday in Rimouski, Que.
The jury rejected the 60-year-old LeBel's account of what happened at his condo on the night in October 2017. LeBel had testified that he and the complainant kissed after a third person who was with them went to bed, but that they both backed off afterwards.
The complainant, whose identity is covered by a publication ban, had told the jury that LeBel became "aggressive'' when she refused his advances, unhooking her bra and insisting on entering a bathroom where she had sought refuge.
She alleged that he then joined her in a bed where he repeatedly touched her sexually for several hours.
Speaking outside the courtroom, Crown prosecutor Manon Gaudreault praised the jury, whose work she described as "remarkable."
"We’re very satisfied with the verdict that was rendered, I won’t hide it," she said, adding that she hopes it encourages other sexual assault victims to come forward. She did not speculate on what sentence she would recommend, saying she would consider the matter in the coming weeks.
LeBel did not address reporters as he left the courtroom.
Evidence presented at trial showed that when the complainant confronted LeBel about the events in an email, he replied that he had been drinking and had no memory of the incident.
“Reading your words turned me inside out. I have no memory of any of this," LeBel wrote in the email dated Feb. 21, 2020. "I remember waking up next to you and asking myself what I was doing there. This is a night of drinking I would like to have never experienced."
In another email sent to the complainant a few minutes later he invited her to dinner and said, "Your letter upset me, but thank you. As I had no memory, I understand now.''
The complainant was adamant that LeBel was not drunk the night of the alleged assault, saying he had three or four gin and tonics. “Harold seemed very normal. We had serious discussions … very coherent speech. He was not someone who was intoxicated,” she testified.
She told the court she had tried for months to forget about the assault, focus on her career and keep her distance from LeBel, who was a popular provincial politician. The complainant said she only realized sexual assault victims could keep their identity shielded after the arrest of former PQ leader André Boisclair, who was sentenced in July to two years less a day in jail after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting two young men in his Montreal apartment.
After Boisclair's arrest, she encouraged people to come forward and thought about doing so herself. The woman filed a complaint with police on July 24, 2020, and LeBel was arrested on Dec. 15, 2020.
LeBel was a member of the Quebec legislature between 2014 and 2022.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2022.
The Canadian Press