MONTREAL — The trial for the first police officer to be charged following an independent investigation by Quebec's police watchdog began Monday with the alleged victim taking the stand.
Roger Fréchette, a Montreal police officer, faces one count of sexual assault against a woman from Ontario who was visiting Montreal in February 2019.
The alleged victim in the case, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, described to the court being groped in her hotel room by the off-duty police officer, who she said allegedly licked her on several occasions, grabbed her breasts and vagina and put her hand on his crotch.
The woman, in her 40s, told the court she had come to Montreal to celebrate Valentine's Day with a man who was her boyfriend at the time. She testified that after drinking into the evening on Feb. 18, 2019, police arrived after she and her boyfriend began arguing on a downtown street. The woman told the court she assumed police had responded to a noise complaint.
She testified being roughly arrested by Montreal officers and transported to a downtown detention centre. The woman said she had suffered post-traumatic stress previous to her arrest that night, adding that she went into a flight-or-fight mentality. She said that in her mind at the time, she wasn't being arrested but attacked.
It was during her time in detention that she first encountered Fréchette, alleging that on several occasions, he made comments about her appearance and her private parts while milling outside her cell. She said her clothes were torn, her makeup was running down her face and she had urinated herself. She told the court she remembered commenting to Fréchette that she felt "like a caged animal."
"He said: 'That's what I like, that you're a caged animal,'" she testified on Monday, describing his behaviour as "creepy."
At one point, the accused brought her jeans and pink boxers to change her soiled clothes. The woman said she started to change and then noticed Fréchette was watching, adding that she stopped changing and threw the clothes out of the cell when she realized she didn't know who they belonged to.
The woman said that after several hours in the cell, she was given a fine for public intoxication and released from the downtown detention centre. She said she saw Fréchette, who was no longer wearing his police uniform, in his personal vehicle outside the police station. The woman said he offered to drive her to her hotel.
"Stupid me, I got in the car," she testified.
At the hotel, the alleged victim recalled telling the night concierge that Fréchette was a police officer. She said Fréchette insisted on accompanying her to her room and at one point, he told her he was married with four children and could end up losing his job.
"Then why are you here?" she said she told Fréchette.
The victim had difficulty remembering the chronological order of the events and details of conversations inside the hotel room, but said she was constantly moving around the room to get away from the accused. After some time, she said she slammed her fists into her thighs and told the accused she'd had enough.
Her next memory was waking up on the bed, clothed. She used the hotel's computer to contact friends to arrange for a train ride back home. A 911 call led her to speak with the province's police watchdog, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes. The agency has confirmed that the case represents the first time a Montreal police officer has been charged following one of its investigations.
Fréchette, 56, was charged in February 2020 with the single count almost one year after the alleged assault. He is suspended with pay and took pages of notes during Monday's testimony.
The trial is scheduled to last five days and is being heard by Quebec court Judge Lori Renée Weitzman.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2021.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press