Warning: This story contains disturbing details of sexual assault. A list of resources for people who have experienced sexual violence appears at the end of the article.
A Quebec man guilty of sexual assault, who received a conditional discharge in part because a judge wanted him to be able to travel for work, went on to allegedly grope a woman at a resort in Cuba, Radio-Canada has learned.
Simon Houle, an engineer from Trois-Rivières, admitted to sexually assaulting a woman in 2019 and, according to the judgment, taking intimate photographs of her while she slept.
Public outcry has been building since the news that Quebec court Judge Matthieu Poliquin granted Houle a conditional discharge last month, partly on the basis of his good behaviour. Houle will not have a criminal record so long as he follows a series of conditions for a probation period of three months.
But less than two weeks after receiving that discharge, a woman claims Houle groped her backside at a resort bar in Cayo Coco, Cuba.
Vickie Vachon was staying at the resort with a group when she says she met Houle, who was on vacation a few days after obtaining the discharge. Radio-Canada has obtained photos of Houle confirming his stay at the resort at the time.
Vachon said Houle "aggressively" grabbed her buttocks in front of a witness the night of July 3. It wasn't until a few days later, when she returned to Quebec, that she recognized the man in the news.
"I want judges to think twice before letting an attacker go free," Vachon told Radio-Canada.
Vachon, the alleged victim, would be Houle's third. During the court proceedings, Houle admitted to sexually assaulting another woman in 2015 — an admission the judge described as "disturbing" but one that "demonstrates [Houle's] desire for transparency" and his serious approach to rehabilitation.
Radio-Canada contacted Houle on Friday for comment. He did not respond and his lawyer, Pierre Spain, declined a request for an interview.
Touched in a 'very intense' way
Vachon said that she was with friends at the bar when a man, introducing himself as Simon, joined their conversation. She said they were enjoying talking with him.
Vachon, Houle and another person then walked one of her friends back to their room. It was on their return to the bar that the touching occurred, she said.
"As I walked, Simon grabbed my buttocks in a very, very intense, very aggressive way, a very big handful," she described.
Vachon said she reacted immediately, getting angry, yelling and kicking him in the shins.
"Right away, I asked him: 'Can you tell me what I did or what I said that made you believe that you had the right to touch me? Tell me!'" she recounted. "And then he was like, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it's my hands. It's not me, it's my hands.'"
Vachon said they spoke for another 20 to 30 minutes and she explained to him why the touching was inappropriate. She said she thought she'd struck a nerve, as his eyes were watering, and she hoped he wouldn't do it again.
"I said to him, looking him in the eye: 'In Quebec, do you do that, touch girls' buttocks? When you go into a bar, do you allow yourself to touch the girls like you just did with me?'"
After learning Houle had already pleaded guilty to sexual assault in Quebec, Vachon began to wonder how far the encounter in Cuba could have gone.
"What could have happened to me? I'm telling you, he's a big guy," Vachon said.
"These are the thoughts I'm having right now, realizing that something bad could have happened. Because this guy has no criminal record, because he can travel."
A criminal complaint
Radio-Canada spoke with the third tourist who witnessed the alleged incident and confirmed Vachon's account.
A second tourist, Josée Binette — who was travelling with Vachon — also identified Houle as the man at the bar. She was not there for the incident but said Vachon had told her about it immediately the next day.
After returning to Quebec, Vachon filed a complaint with the Lac des Deux-Montagnes police department, which serves the city of Deux-Montagnes and other suburbs located northwest of Montreal. A spokesperson for the police confirmed the complaint had been made and said an investigator has been assigned to the case.
The office of Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions said in a statement that it would not comment this specific case, but said there were precedents in Canadian law in the event that a probation order is violated abroad.
The Crown had previously said it planned to appeal Houle's sentence, which included the conditional discharge, in the coming weeks.
"I'm thinking about other victims. How they must feel knowing that this guy can still do almost anything he wants? He can go anywhere, in any country," Vachon said.
"The justice system let one get away."
There are resources and supports available to anyone who has experienced sexual violence: