Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press
Published on Monday, February 12, 2024 9:08 pm EST
Last updated Monday February 12, 2024 9:10 pm EST
Retired Vice Admiral Haydn Edmundson took the stand at his sexual assault trial Monday and denied having sexual or physical contact with the woman who accuses him of raping her on a military ship more than 30 years ago.
The complainant, whose identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban, testified for three days last week.
She said Edmundson was a senior officer and that she was at the lowest rank in the Navy when they were deployed together in 1991.
She testified that one of her responsibilities aboard the ship was to wake the officers for the night watch and that she woke Edmundson every two or three nights.
Edmundson’s behavior progressively worsened over the two months aboard the ship that fall, she said, testifying that he began sleeping naked and leaving parts of his body exposed when she went to wake him.
On the stand Monday, Edmundson told the court that he never slept naked aboard the ship and never exposed himself to anyone who came to wake him up.
He also testified that it was unusual for him to be on night watch on that deployment because he was the ship’s navigator.
“Because of my rank and position, I did fewer (night) guards than the juniors,” he said. He said he verified this by reviewing the captain’s night order book, an informal but detailed record of the ship’s activities created by its captain and commanding officer.
When he had to wake up to do a night watch, Edmundson said he had a Timex wristwatch with an alarm. Asking for a wake-up call would have been a “backup to my normal alarm system,” he said.
Edmundson also testified that he was ordered to retire in February 2022 after 39 years in the Armed Forces as a result of the charges against him.
He was one of several senior military leaders who were accused of sexual misconduct in early 2021, starting a crisis that resulted in an external review of the Armed Forces led by former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour.
Edmundson resigned from his position as chief of military personnel in March 2021, when the allegation became public. Charges were filed in December of that year.
The plaintiff testified last week that she was assigned to wake Edmundson one night in early November 1991, when she found him completely naked and exposed. She said she “went crazy” and yelled at him, turning on the lights in her room.
A night or two later, she said, he sexually assaulted her.
She testified that the ship was docked in an American port and that she was off duty and planned to disembark with friends. She was going to look for her friend’s lost glasses in the officers’ mess pantry, she said, when Edmundson called her to her bedroom to talk about her.
The complainant said she felt uncomfortable, but went into her room to apologize for her previous behavior and then attempted to leave.
She said Edmundson told her she wasn’t fired and that she felt trapped and frozen. The complainant said he congratulated her, kissed her and then raped her.
Edmundson on Monday denied that any of this had happened, testifying about his typical routine when the ship was in port and telling the court that he remembers spending two of four nights ashore during this particular stop, although he couldn’t remember which nights. .
When asked by his defense attorney if he had any physical or sexual contact with the complainant during that port stop, he responded: “No, I didn’t.”
“Has anyone during the course of your career walked into your cabin and had the type of outburst that (the plaintiff) has described in this courtroom?” defense attorney Brian Greenspan asked.
“Never,” Edmundson said.
According to his testimony, Edmundson barely remembered interacting with the complainant during the 1991 deployment.
The Crown’s case was dealt a blow Thursday during Greenspan’s cross-examination of a key witness who had corroborated the complainant’s version of events.
The friend, whose identity is also protected by the publication ban, stated that she remembered losing her glasses and that the complainant went to look for them. She said she remembered looking for the complainant before abandoning ship that night.
The complainant had testified that she could hear her friend looking for her while she was in Edmundson’s bedroom just before and while the assault was taking place.
While questioning her friend, Greenspan presented a transcript of an interview she had conducted with the CBC before speaking to police.
The transcript suggests that at the beginning of that interview, the CBC reporter revealed to the witness important details about the accuser’s story, including about the plaintiff searching for the glasses.
Edmundson will face questioning by the Crown on Tuesday.