MONTREAL — A Montreal police officer on trial for sexual assault denied groping the alleged victim and told a judge on Wednesday he was only trying to be benevolent by driving her back to her hotel in the dead of winter.
Montreal police officer Roger Fréchette faces one count of sexual assault against a woman from Ontario who was visiting Montreal in February 2019. He was the first police officer to be charged following an independent investigation by Quebec's police watchdog, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes.
The alleged victim is a woman in her 40s whose identity is protected by a publication ban. She had come to Montreal with her boyfriend for a Valentine's Day weekend when they were arrested downtown because they were arguing on the street after a night of drinking.
She testified earlier that Fréchette made comments about her private parts when she was partially naked in her cell and later took her to her hotel room, where he allegedly groped her, licked her neck, grabbed her genital area and put her hand on his crotch.
Taking the stand in his own defence, Fréchette denied anything happened. "None, no sexual attraction," he insisted. He said he made no sexual comments toward the victim and by taking her to her hotel was just trying to help, as she had told him she had no money and didn't know how to find her hotel.
"I was simply trying to help her," Fréchette, 56, told the trial being heard by Quebec court Judge Lori Renée Weitzman.
He testified that after keeping tabs on her during his shift, he decided to wait for her outside the police station in his car after his shift, which coincided with her being released by police at around 5:30 a.m.
Fréchette said he felt responsible for the woman's well-being after talking to her several times while she was in detention, and he had three hours to kill before a medical appointment that morning.
"I wanted to be sure she knew the route, she knew where to go," Fréchette testified. Noting the alleged victim didn't have a jacket in -20C weather, he decided to give her a lift.
"It was a bit stupid. I shouldn't have done it," Fréchette told the court.
He said he followed the woman into her hotel room because she said she wanted to make sure she could get into the building and told him she needed to talk. He said he later understood that to mean she was looking for money for a train ticket or a ride back to her home, which he refused.
Fréchette testified that once he refused, it was the woman who groped him, and that when that happened, he pushed her away and left the hotel room as she stripped to take a shower. He said she told him to come back after his medical appointment.
He explained his frequent visits to her cell, which she called "creepy" in her testimony, were to keep her calm as she had been agitated, screaming and disrupting other detainees trying to sleep.
Under cross-examination, Fréchette said it was the first time he'd gone to such lengths for someone in police cells. He told prosecutor Andrée-Anne Tremblay it never crossed his mind to just give her directions to her hotel or money for the bus or a taxi.
Fréchette, a 34-year veteran of the force, has been suspended with pay. His cross-examination continues Thursday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2021.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Fréchette was suspended without pay.