Winnipeg cop asked sex-trade worker if she wanted to 'hang out' and 'get high,' court told

Winnipeg cop asked sex-trade worker if she wanted to 'hang out' and 'get high,' court told

A former sex-trade worker told court Thursday she was harassed by a Winnipeg police officer who repeatedly called her at home to see if she wanted to "hang out" and "get high."

"I was worried if this officer was harassing me on the streets and in my home, what else could he do to me?" the 30-year-old woman testified.

Const. Remi Van Den Driessche, 42, is on trial charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, extortion, criminal harassment and breach of trust in connection with four women. A fifth alleged victim passed away following Van Den Driessche's 2014 arrest.

The woman told court she believed she first encountered the accused in the summer of 2011 while walking home along Flora Avenue. The woman said Van Den Driessche and another officer pulled up in a cruiser and "asked me why I was out so late."

The woman said Van Den Driessche — who was driving — asked for her address and phone number, which he entered into his cellphone before letting her go on her way. 

"I didn't think it was a big deal at the time," she said. "I thought it was maybe in case his computer in the cruiser crashed."

Within days, Van Den Driessche was calling her at home, the woman alleged.

"He asked me if I had any plans that evening, if I wanted to hang out with him, if I wanted to get high."

The woman said she told him she just wanted to stay home and then hung up the phone. 

The calls continued with increasing frequency, she said. She claimed Van Den Driessche and assorted partners stopped her on the street "over 100 times."

The woman alleged the harassment continued for nearly two years, until the spring of 2013 — "probably after I told him I was going to call his supervisor and make a complaint about him."

Under cross-examination, the woman admitted she told investigators with the professional standards unit that she was aware of allegations police officers had been harassing sex trade workers but had "never come across anything" herself and would "keep my eyes and ears out."

The woman told court she was concerned for her safety and whether she would be "labelled a rat" if she told investigators about the harassment.

The cross-examination became heated, with defence lawyer Richard Wolson harshly admonishing the woman when she rolled her eyes at him. Later he called her memory into question and asked if she was still using crack.

"I wish I was. It would make this experience more forgettable," she said. "It makes me feel better about being a piece of shit, forgive my language."

Earlier in the week, a former Main Street hotel manager testified he saw a police officer prosecutors allege was Van Den Driessche demand another alleged victim expose her breasts to him. 

Earlier in the trial, that same woman alleged Van Den Driessche visited her at the hotel up to 40 times with the goal of collecting sexual favours.

The threat of a mistrial loomed Thursday after it was disclosed Van Den Driessche's ex-brother in-law is a Manitoba provincial court judge.

Court heard neither the Crown or defence was aware of the connection before being alerted to it Thursday morning by provincial court Chief Judge Margaret Wiebe.

Court heard Van Den Driessche no longer has a relationship with his ex-brother in-law, who was appointed a judge after Van Den Driessche and his wife divorced.

Judge Sandy Chapman, who is presiding over the trial, said it would have been normal practice to appoint an out-of-province judge to hear the case, had the court known about the relationship before the trial started. 

Wolson and Crown attorney Richard Lonstrup both recommended the trial continue with Chapman. 

Chapman ruled she could decide the case fairly and that a "properly informed public" would not believe she was biased for or against the accused.