A jury has found former Parti Québécois legislator Harold LeBel guilty of sexual assault.
A woman, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, accused LeBel of sexually assaulting her in his condo in 2017.
The jury of nine women and three men deliberated for two days at the Rimouski, Que., courthouse, following a last-minute appearance by the victim on Monday.
The woman was called in to testify for a second time after LeBel's lawyer, Maxime Roy, discovered she was participating in a Quebecor documentary.
The woman said she was participating in the documentary to reclaim ownership over her story and encourage other victims of sexual assault to come forward, and to give them a sense of the judicial process.
She said she didn't feel that participating in the documentary jeopardized the trial.
LeBel was charged in December 2020 for the offence that took place on Oct. 21, 2017 at his condo in Rimouski. The victim said LeBel tried to kiss her, unfastened her bra without her consent and groped her as she lay in a guest bed, after she'd asked him not to touch her.
LeBel denied wrongdoing at the time of his arrest, releasing a statement saying he wanted to continue his work for the people of Rimouski, located about 300 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.
Crown hopes verdict is positive sign
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."
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 kicked out of the Parti Québécois caucus and sat as an Independent until this fall's provincial election. He had been the party's critic on several issues, including employment, social solidarity and the fight against poverty.