A former RCMP officer previously convicted of sexually assaulting a co-worker in Fredericton has had his conviction set aside and a new trial has been ordered.
In his decision, Fredericton Court of Queen's Bench Justice E. Thomas Christie said he found the provincial court judge made an error by including certain evidence in his decision finding Youssef Michael (Joe) Hanna guilty of sexual assault.
Judge Jacques DesJardins, in December 2020, found Hanna guilty of touching the victim's vagina over her pants and kissing her breasts without her consent at her apartment after a staff Christmas party the previous year.
DesJardins granted Hanna a conditional discharge and 12 months probation at sentencing, meaning he would not have a criminal record after fulfilling the conditions.
The victim's identity remains protected by a publication ban.
Hanna appealed the decision, arguing DesJardins erred by relying on stereotypical assumptions about human behaviour, thus bolstering the victim's credibility over his own.
He also argued the judge erred by engaging in propensity reasoning by relying on evidence of bad character. He also argued the judge erred by subjecting Hanna's evidence to a stricter standard of scrutiny.
In his written decision May 19, Christie said he only found merit in the second argument brought forward by Hanna.
Christie said DesJardins appeared to base his decision on evidence presented by the Crown, which pertained to events that happened before and after the night of the alleged sexual assault on Dec. 20, 2019.
Those included a series of text messages sent between Hanna and the victim after the alleged assault, as well as interactions between the two at events and social gatherings in the months prior.
"While such evidence may be of some use regarding the narrative of the relationship between [the victim] and Mr. Hanna, it has no probative value and should not be part of the 'package' of evidence leading toward conviction," Christie wrote.
Christie set aside the conviction and directed that the matter be returned to the provincial court for retrial.
Speaking to CBC News Monday afternoon, T.J. Burke, Hanna's lawyer, said his client is elated by the decision, adding that he has since retired from the RCMP.
Burke said Crown prosecutors will be left to decide whether they retry the matter, which they normally do, or withdraw the charge.
CBC News has asked the Department of Justice and Public Safety whether it will pursue the charge, and is awaiting response.
At the time of his conviction, Hanna was suspended with pay by the RCMP and was facing a separate code of conduct investigation by the police force.
CBC News asked the RCMP what the result of that investigation was.