‘I froze’: Complainant testifies in Haydn Edmundson’s sexual assault trial

By Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The woman who accuses Haydn Edmundson of sexually assaulting her on board a navy ship in 1991 gave an emotional recounting of the events in an Ottawa courtroom Monday, telling the judge she froze and couldn’t bring herself to call for help. 

“He was a high-ranking officer. What would have been the consequence of me yelling, me pushing, me saying no, me not following orders?” she said.

Edmundson, now a retired vice-admiral and the military’s former head of personnel, has pleaded not guilty to one count of indecent acts and one count of sexual assault.

The complainant’s identity is protected by a publication ban. 

She testified Monday that Edmundson was the navigator and a lieutenant commander aboard the ship where she was serving in a junior rank.

She cried at times while recalling the alleged assault, which she said happened in Edmundson’s sleeping quarters when they were both off-duty. 

She said she was planning to meet up with a friend when Edmundson called her into his room, which was dark. She described feeling obligated to follow orders even though she was uncomfortable. 

“I knew I was in danger,” she said.

She said Edmundson put his fingers over her lips and told her to keep quiet when her friend came looking for her. She said he then complimented her and kissed her before removing her clothes and raping her. 

“It’s a big blur, to be honest. I froze,” she said. “I felt like I couldn’t react.”

After the assault, the complainant said she took a long shower — which was not typically allowed on the ship — and went to her bunk and cried. 

When she finally met up with her friend later that evening, she could not think of how to explain where she had been, so she said she told her friend she had sex with Edmundson and didn’t want to talk about it. 

She testified in detail about what she and Edmundson were wearing that day, where his sleeping quarters were located and where she was in the room when the assault happened. 

Edmundson took notes and at times shook his head during her testimony. He has denied any wrongdoing. 

His defence lawyer, Brian Greenspan, began cross-examination in the afternoon with questions about a class-action lawsuit the complainant joined. 

More than 25,000 current and former members of the Armed Forces have signed on to the lawsuit alleging they were subjected to sexual misconduct during their time in uniform. 

The complainant said she learned about the case from a friend in July 2020 and decided to apply for compensation. 

In compiling her statement for that lawsuit, she said she told her friend what happened with Edmundson. She testified that she had never spoken of it before that.

Earlier Monday, the complainant told court that one of her duties on board the ship was to wake the officers, including Edmundson, for night watch. 

Officers had to fill out a form to request a wake-up call. “He put his name in the book. He knew I was going to wake him up,” she said. 

She said he started sleeping naked and parts of his body would be exposed when she came to wake him. 

One night, she said, she found Edmundson fully exposed in his bunk. She said she was so angry she turned on the room lights and yelled at him. 

“I couldn’t believe that I had to put up with this,” she said. 

She said she slammed the door in hopes of waking up the man sleeping in the bunk above him. She couldn’t identify him in court.

“I guess my intention was to make noise, you know, to make it stop,” she said. But she said no officer came to talk to her about it later, and she did not report the incident because she believed she had no recourse. 

Days later, she said, Edmundson sexually assaulted her.

The trial is being held in civilian court before Justice Matthew Webber. 

Edmundson was one of several high-profile military members accused of sexual misconduct in early 2021, kicking off a crisis that led to an external investigation of the Armed Forces. He stepped down as head of military personnel command in March 2021. 

The investigation by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour led to a report calling for sweeping changes to the military’s culture. 

Arbour recommended the federal government remove the military’s jurisdiction over sexual assault cases and other related crimes, and transfer cases to the civilian justice system. 

The government has not yet made legislative changes to remove such crimes from the National Defence Act, though it has directed the military to transfer cases to civilian police. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2024.

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press

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