RIMOUSKI, Que. — Within seconds of taking the witness stand Monday, former Parti Québécois legislator Harold LeBel strongly denied the sexual assault allegation against him.
His lawyer, Maxime Roy, asked LeBel whether he had repeatedly touched the complainant sexually without consent at his home in 2017. "That is false," LeBel replied. "No, I never did that. I really never did that."
The woman, whose identity is under a publication ban, told the court last week that LeBel became "aggressive'' when she refused his advances in October 2017, unhooking her bra and insisting on entering a bathroom where she had taken refuge.
She said he later joined her on a bed where he repeatedly touched her buttocks and anus for several hours. The complainant testified that she remained frozen and silent, waiting for him to stop.
LeBel admitted on Monday that he and the woman did kiss that night in his condo — after another woman who was with them had gone to bed in his room. But he said that after kissing, they both backed off and she went to the bathroom. He said he and the woman had each consumed "four or five gin and tonics."
“Yes, that happened at the table after a discussion; we were all alone at that time," he told the court in Rimouski, Que. "We discussed our personal situations, our romantic situations. And at that time, we were close; we were six inches, shoulder to shoulder, very close and it happened.
"But very quickly, very quickly, we were like 'Whoa, what just happened?' We backed off." LeBel denied trying to undo her bra or enter the bathroom when she was inside.
When he was ready to go to bed he realized that the two beds in his home — the one in his bedroom and the Murphy bed in the living room — were occupied. “I had a girl in my bed there and I have another girl in my (other) bed there. I had a decision to make,” he said.
LeBel testified that he asked the complainant's permission to lie down next to her in the Murphy bed. “She said yes. I slept dressed, on my back, next to her," he explained. When he woke up the next morning, his nose was by her hair and his hand was on her shoulder, which he said made him uncomfortable.
He acknowledged that in retrospect he should have asked the two women to sleep in the same bed. "I didn't think about that," he said. "But I see today, with what is happening, that I should have done that."
Last week, a Feb. 21, 2020, email between LeBel and the complainant was entered into evidence in which he told his accuser he had no memory of the alleged events because he had drunk too much that night.
"Reading your words turned me inside out," LeBel said in the email. "I have no memory of any of this? 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."
The woman filed a complaint with police on July 24, 2020, and LeBel, 60, was arrested the following December. He has pleaded not guilty to one count of sexual assault.
During cross-examination, LeBel was asked about his declaration to police after his 2020 arrest that he had a "blackout" regarding the events for which he is accused.
LeBel responded to prosecutor Jérôme Simard: "I went to sleep. I didn't get drunk. Nothing like that. I said there was alcohol. I didn't tell police officers that I was drunk." He testified that he was distraught and destabilized during his police interrogation after his arrest very early on the morning of Dec. 15, 2020.
Simard returned to LeBel's comments about a "blackout." The prosecutor brought up the February 2020 email LeBel had sent the complainant, in which LeBel had referred to a "night of drinking." LeBel responded that he had simply fallen asleep that night in his condo and that he had no memory between the time he went to bed and when he woke up.
The prosecutor asked who took the initiative for the kiss.
"We kissed at the same time," LeBel replied. "Alcohol played a role, fatigue played a role."
The prosecution is to conclude cross-examination on Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2022.
— By Pierre Saint-Arnaud in Montreal.
The Canadian Press