Nova Scotia judge acquits man in 2017 university sexual assault case
A sign marks one of the entrances to the St. Francis Xavier University campus in Antigonish, N.S. on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
ANTIGONISH, N.S. -- An alleged case of sexual assault that rocked a Nova Scotia university campus two years ago has concluded with a judge acquitting the accused.
Luke Arthur Letourneau, a former St. Francis Xavier University student, had pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual assault in connection with an alleged incident in a residence at the Antigonish, N.S., school on Nov. 3, 2017.
Justice Denise Boudreau found Friday that with no direct evidence regarding consent by the complainant -- whose name is under a court ordered publication ban -- she was left with a reasonable doubt that a sexual assault had occurred.
Boudreau said the key point for her was an unexplained memory gap by the complainant during the short sexual encounter that cut to the complainant's credibility, because she was not intoxicated and didn't have a medical condition that may have contributed to the memory loss.
"That may have been a short period of time in terms of minutes, but frankly for the purposes of this trial it was perhaps the most crucial part of the entire evening," Boudreau said.
The judge recounted that the pair, who were first-year students, had spent the evening in question socializing with a group of friends at various locations on campus.
She noted the complainant testified to drinking one-and-a-half beers, sharing a marijuana joint and then later drinking two shots of tequila and said she was not intoxicated and was in control of her faculties throughout the evening.
Boudreau noted the accused testified to drinking five beers and to sharing a marijuana joint and said he was never at any point drunk and out of control.
They ended the evening back at the university residence where they both lived, and Letourneau ended up going to the complainant's room to return a laptop charger that she had asked for via a text message.
Although both were in relationships, the complainant said that after a hug, Letourneau leaned in and attempted to kiss her. The complainant recounted being "herded" toward her bed but said she didn't remember what happened after that point.
Court was told the pair ended up mostly naked on the bed and engaged in what both testified was brief intercourse.
"What it means is that there is no direct evidence from her during that period of time as to her actions or her state of mind," Boudreau said. "In my view this particular, quote, 'memory gap' . . . frankly cried out for an explanation."
Boudreau said she was left with no conceivable explanation for the memory gap that was supported by any evidence, so she reached the "plain common-sense conclusion" that the complainant does remember what happened and chose to say that she had forgotten.
"That conclusion leads me to having serious doubts about the complainant's credibility regarding the events of that evening, including her testimony that she did not consent to what took place," the judge said.
Boudreau said she found Letourneau's recollection of the events consistent and credible and she noted that he ultimately stopped and apologized when the complainant made it clear that she was uncomfortable with what was happening.
Boudreau says up until the point the complainant clearly withdrew her consent and the activity stopped, Letourneau would have been justified in his belief that the complainant was "consenting and that she had communicated that to him."
"In my view the actions of the accused were not reckless or wilfully blind," Boudreau said.
The case garnered widespread attention after it was revealed that St. F.X. permitted Letourneau to remain on campus pending the criminal prosecution. However, he later withdrew from school, and the university's president apologized for how the case was handled.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2020.
-- By Keith Doucette in Halifax