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Lawyer for retired vice-admiral Edmundson challenges woman's claim he exposed himself, sex assault trial hears

The sexual assault trial of Haydn Edmundson, the Canadian military's former head of human resources, continued Tuesday with his lawyer cross-examining the woman who has accused him.  (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The sexual assault trial of Haydn Edmundson, the Canadian military's former head of human resources, continued Tuesday with his lawyer cross-examining the woman who has accused him. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details of an alleged sexual assault.

A woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by retired vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson on a naval vessel could never have been exposed to his genitals days before she says the alleged attack occurred because he wasn't working night duty those days, his lawyer argued in court.

"You told us very clearly, unequivocally that it was a day or two, probably the day before the port, that this incident occurred, where for the first time he exposed his genitals to you and that you then flashed the lights and screamed loudly," Brian Greenspan, Edmundson's lawyer, said to the woman during cross examination.

"I suggest to you that at no time during that period was Lt.-Cmdr. Edmundson even on night watch. There was no reason for him to be awakened a day or two before port."

"Well that's incorrect," the woman replied.

Edmundson, whose sexual assault trial began Monday, more than 30 years after the attack is alleged to have occurred, is being tried in the Ontario Court of Justice by a judge alone. He was charged in December 2021 with one count of sexual assault and one count of committing indecent acts.

Edmundson has pleaded not guilty, and denied any wrongdoing. He has since resigned as head of military personnel command and retired from Canada's Armed Forces.

Edmundson, seated on the far right beside his lawyers,  is being tried in the Ontario Court of Justice by a judge alone
Edmundson, seated on the far right beside his lawyers, is being tried in the Ontario Court of Justice by a judge alone

Edmundson, seated on the far right in this courtroom sketch beside his lawyers, is being tried in the Ontario Court of Justice by a judge alone (Lauren Foster-MacLeod/CBC)

Woman says behaviour got 'progressively' worse

The woman, whose identity is protected under a publication ban, has alleged that Edmundson sexually assaulted her in November 1991, when their ship had been docked at a U.S. naval base.

But she told court that just a couple days before that alleged sexual assault, she'd had an outburst when she went to wake up him up for his night shift and found him laying in the bed naked.

Court has heard that the woman's duties on the ship included waking up officers for their night shift.

She testified that nothing improper occurred when she woke Edmundson during her first mission. But on the second mission, she said Edmundson started exhibiting odd behaviour and that it became more difficult to wake him. His behaviour, she told the court on Monday, got "progressively" worse, to the point where she said he would moan when she would come to wake him, and that he began exposing his body parts.

She testified that a couple days before the ship had docked at a U.S. naval base, when she went to wake him up, he was totally naked, with his genitals exposed.

The woman said she lost her composure, yelled and turned the lights on in the quarters so that the other officer who was sleeping in the top bunk could witness the behaviour she had to deal with.

She testified that she slammed the door, hoping that would attract attention. But she said that none of the officers on board asked her about the incident.

Vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson, centre arrives at court with lawyer Brian Greenspan left, in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023. The sexual-assault trial for the military's former head of human resources has been delayed. Edmundson has pleaded not guilty to one count of indecent acts and one count of sexual assault in an incident that allegedly happened in 1991.

Edmundson, right, arrives at court with lawyer Brian Greenspan in Ottawa in August 2023. On Tuesday, Greenspan cross-examined the claimant in the sexual-assault trial for the military's former head of human resources. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Edmundson wasn't on nights due to injury: lawyer

But on Tuesday, Greenspan, Edmundson's lawyer, challenged her narrative.

The woman agreed with Greenspan that during that second exercise, she woke Edmundson somewhere between 16 to 18 times. She said that of those times, there were seven to 10 instances where he exhibited inappropriate behaviour.

But Greenspan said that for a period of time during that second mission, Edmundson was unable to be on night watch because he had dislocated his shoulder during an exhibition rugby game during one of the port stops and that for about a month, he was in a sling.

The woman told court that she didn't recall Edmundson having injured his shoulder or wearing a sling.

Greenspan said that Edmundson's injury meant that based on the time frame of the second mission, there would have been just four opportunities for him to display "progressive" inappropriate behaviour.

"Does that now correspond with your better recollection of memory," Greenspan asked the woman.

"Was it four times? Was it five times? Was it seven times? I don't have an exact number," the woman said. "What I'm saying is that it was probably progressive and I don't remember where the switch in my head determined that it was no longer acceptable behaviour."

Outburst would've been noticed, lawyer suggests

Greenspan also said that if she'd had such an outburst over finding Edmundson naked, which included her shouting in the middle of the night, it would have gone through the ship "like wildfire" and everyone would have known about it.

"I suggest to you that it would have been the talk of the town," Greenspan said. "That people would have talked about it, not heard it, but talked about itand that it would have gone through the ship in no time if this had occurred."

But the woman disagreed, saying that officers and non-officers didn't interact socially and she didn't believe they would exchange information about "out of order" incidents occurring on the ship.

"I would think not, because that would be contrary to the essence of the officer and non-officer structure that DND has, put in place," she said.

"There are things that do happen on ships that perhaps few people might know about, but that doesn't get around that often."

The woman's cross-examination continues Wednesday.