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Lawyers offer closing arguments in sex abuse case

Defence calls police investigation 'terrible'
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The Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse is pictured in this file photo. Michael Purvis/SooToday
The defence position: The woman who has accused Bonaventure Sabourin of sexually abusing her "manufactured the events" she described to the court this week.

The Crown position: The complainant has "no motive to fabricate" and came forward after nearly 40 years to disclose what had occurred because she "couldn't live with this anymore."

The lawyers made their closing arguments Thursday in the Marathon, Ont. man's indecent assault trial at the Sault Ste. Marie courthouse.

And after hearing their submissions, Superior Court Justice Edward Gareau reserved his decision until April 17.

Sabourin has pleaded not guilty to the charge, which stems from incidents alleged to have occurred in the town of White River in the early 1980s.

During the trial, which began Monday, Gareau heard from two Crown witnesses - the complainant and her brother - and two called by the defence - Sabourin and his sister.

The complainant described three incidents that she said occurred when she was a pre-teen and the accused a young adult.

She testified that Sabourin touched her inappropriately, fondling her breasts and kissing her when she was at his parents' home, attempted to have intercourse with her during another visit and on a third occasion tried to force her to perform oral sex on him.

Sabourin took the witness stand to deny the allegations, repeatedly telling the court it never happened.

On Thursday, his lawyer Bruce Willson attacked the woman's credibility, as well as what he called a "terrible investigation" that had brought his client to court. 

He noted the woman has a good job, is educated and is knowledgeable about sexual abuse matters.

"She has the ability to emulate a victim of sexual assault."

Willson said the complainant "had the signature trait of a person" who is making something up."

Pointing to parts of her evidence he suggested had changed when she was pressed during cross-examination, he said people don't do a good job when they make things up.

Assistant Crown attorney Robert Skeggs countered that the woman's evidence "came out rather unblemished."

"I didn't hear any inconsistencies," he said, noting the complainant was a child at the time of the alleged incidents while Sabourin was an adult.

She testified there were more incidents, but "could clearly remember only three."

Skeggs described her as a strong woman, who is now able to stand up for herself.

She has become very introspective later in life," and is someone who years later doesn't know why she didn't say anything earlier as suggested by the defence.

This is an example of why we "shouldn't have pre-conceived ideas" about responses to sexual abuse, he said.

The woman told the court the extent of what she had shared earlier as an adult - general statements that something had happened with Sabourin, he said.

"We don't have anybody who can go back years to tell us about her allegations that go back years."

Skeggs called Sabourin's evidence "unbelievable."

If the accused's testimony that he didn't meet the complainant until he was in his mid-20s is accepted then there would be no reason to fabricate, he suggested.

Sabourin testified that he never saw the complainant at his family home, but his sister indicated she recalls her occasionally coming over to the house.

While the woman didn't want to go into details in the past, she indicated on the witness stand that she came forward because she "wants to have peace," to help herself, Skeggs said.

Criticizing the investigation, Willson questioned why the half dozen people the complainant said she had told over the years about something happening with Sabourin weren't called to testify.

He suggested her parents, who she said she told when she as 21, "could corroborate her evidence that the abuse was disclosed prior to her going to police (in 2016)."

"This all goes to her credibility that they are not here," Willson said.

"We have a middle-aged lady testifying about matters that occurred 40 years ago," Willson said, noting this is the case with all the witnesses, including Sabourin.

"You can't hold the accused to a higher standard than the complainant when assessing credibility," he said.

"What can he do except say I didn't do it about something that occurred 40 years ago."

Maybe Sabourin has trouble with dates and is not educated, but "he's very clear this didn't happen," Willson said.

He described the complainant as a "tough lady who had no problem going toe-to-toe with the defence during cross--examination.

"She was argumentative and didn't seem to be the type of character to keep this bottled up for 35 years," Willson said. "She seemed to be the type of person to confront him."

In response, Skeggs argued that the defence wants to conclude because these other people weren't in court "she must have made up the events."

He noted she was able to describe the first floor of the home, a second-floor bedroom and a sun porch that she said had a mattress on the floor and was used as a bedroom.

'There was uncanny confirming evdence" that the porch was Sabourin's bedroom at one time, the prosecutor said.

Skeggs suggested if Sabourin's evidence and that of his sister that the complainant was never in the porch is to be believed how did the woman know what what it looked like.

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About the Author: Linda Richardson

Linda Richardson is a freelance journalist who has been covering Sault Ste. Marie's courts and other local news for more than 35 years.
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