Chenard trial: the harrowing journey of two victims

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Procès Ché nard: the trying journey of two victims

Jade is part of the 10 victims of former massage therapist Patrick Chénard.

On June 1, 2018, Patrick Chenard, a kinesiologist and massage therapist from Rimouski, was arrested for sexually assaulting three women. Four years and a trial later, it is finally 10 victims who emerge from a trying legal process. Two of them agreed to tell us their story.

It was four years ago. Camille (not her real name) trains at a gym in Rimouski, where she meets Patrick Chénard, a trainer and massage therapist. Shortly after, she receives a message from him. He offers her three low-cost massage sessions, as part of a study. He says he wants to study the relaxing effect of music on the body. Camille accepts his proposal, but her meeting with the massage therapist does not go as planned.

I was lying on his table, I was frozen, not able to move as such. I was really just clenching my teeth, thinking, 'Is this going to end? I'm really not well.''

“I had had other massages before in my life, then I had never experienced this . »

— Camille

When I got out of there, I burst into tears, she says.

She then goes to her workplace to be able to talk to someone about it and learns that she is not the only one to have experienced such a situation. The same thing happened to another woman, reveals a colleague. The two victims are then put in contact and tell each other their experience.

That's when we saw that this was not a unique situation. That's when the two, on the same day, decided to go and file a complaint at the police station, says Camille.

I was told that usually, for cases of sexual assault, it is two years maximum to process the file, she said.

A few months later, Jade (not her real name) is watching the news on television. She learns there that her massage therapist was arrested for sexual assault and that he would have used the same modus operandi with several women. However, Jade doesn't feel like she was assaulted. She has doubts, but nothing that she thinks would require a complaint.

“I hadn't decided to press charges, because this n was unclear in my head.

—Jade

I doubted myself, I doubted my perception of events. I had no idea that I was one of the victims.

Patrick Chenard at the court of justice Rimouski, in 2018 (archives).

She contacts the investigator assigned to the file all the same to tell him that she, too, has received a message from the massage therapist in the past offering her to participate in a study on music.

I simply said to myself that it might help them progress in their investigations, if I gave them the details, the messages he sent me.

It was when she shared her experience with the investigator that she realized that she too was one of the victims.

I realized there was something wrong. I had had my doubts, but I hadn't realized that I was a victim, too. His reputation, his status… He was a super famous trainer, everyone wanted to have him. It's as if it couldn't be.

The legal process is then engaged.

Jade shows up at the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) station, in a room equipped with cameras, in front of two investigators and a social worker from the Crime Victims Assistance Center (CAVAC). One of the investigators listens to his testimony.

“Waking up these events is not easy. It awakens emotions, it awakens things.

— Jade

It was a very emotional moment, I was stressed, it called on my memory a lot. It had been a while since the events had happened, says Jade.

Then, two years pass between the complaint and his testimony at trial.

Patrick Chénard's trial begins in January 2020. Jade and Camille are among the witnesses who will be called. Jade says she remains on the alert during this period, since the day of her testimony is not determined in advance and is constantly postponed.

To prepare for this important day, Jade listens to the recording of her testimony. She has to do it over and over; she finds the exercise too difficult.

“It took me back to my emotions, to pain, to shame, to yark [sic ]. »

— Jade

Then comes the moment when the victims must testify. This stage takes several days.

The 10 women must answer questions from the Crown about the events that took place a few years earlier. Once you're there, it's really another challenge, says Camille.

The trial of Patrick Chénard began in January 2020 at the Rimouski courthouse (archives).

[I enter] the courtroom and there, it is the first time since his arrest that I find myself in his presence. That too is destabilizing, says Jade.

Jade thinks that everything is going well at this time, under the circumstances. [But] it's not easy being on the witness stand, knowing he's behind me, feeling his gaze on me…

En more than that, we have to tell, again, the same story.

“Once you unpack your story, you hide it away, away, away, because you don't want to live with it in everyday life.

— Jade

But the moment Jade and Camille dread the most is cross-examination.

Camille considers this to be the most difficult step in the legal process. She felt that no one believed her. Rather, she had the impression that she was the one who had harmed the accused.

“Me, I have to live with the consequences of these gestures in my life, then it will probably stay like that all the time. »

They come to sting you, to tell you that you are contradicting yourself. For example: “Sometimes you told us it was five minutes, now you tell us it's not five minutes.”; “Which hand did he touch you with?”, etc. Besides, the cross-examination took place an easy year after his arrest. Already there, the events, yes, you remember them, but it's really fuzzy: which hand he took, what color the sheets were, how he was placed. You remember the hands, then the feelings and sensations you experienced at that moment, but your head is in a donut, you don't notice the little details, says Camille.

Reminiscing about her cross-examination, Jade says she can't blame her attacker's lawyer. She acknowledges that it is part of her job to find the flaws in her story.

The support of CAVAC did, however, help her through this more difficult stage of the legal process. The agency informed him of the interrogation techniques used by the defence.

You'll see, he'll take long, long pauses between questions to see if you add not details, because you'll be nervous about the silence, Jade paraphrases.

She remembers one question in particular. The defense lawyer asked her if she was sure that Patrick Chénard had indeed touched her directly with his hands, or if he had not rather touched the blanket that covered her.

I remember replying tit for tat: ''I can still tell the difference between a hand touching me and then a blanket.''

Jade qualifies this day as draining. She wasn't able to work the next day.

“I was down like someone completely drained my battery. »

— Jade

Two years later, the verdict is in. On January 31, 2022, Patrick Chénard was convicted of sexually assaulting 10 women.

For Jade and Camille, it's a relief. With all that we see in the media, the sexual assault trials, the complaints that do not succeed, either for lack of evidence or because it is the version of the accused that has been believed rather than the victim's version…, Jade didn't know what to expect.

“At that time, I I was like, ''Wow this is the end, we made it, justice has been done.''”

— Camille

The guilty verdict is priceless, adds Jade. She says she lived with the fear of going to the end of the legal process without being believed. There is no video evidence, no clues from the crime scene, it is not a rape with DNA evidence, so there is nothing tangible, solid. It's really one version against another.

It is at the time of sentencing recommendations, on May 20, 2022, that some victims meet for the first time. This is a special moment for Jade and Camille. Meeting people who have experienced the same events as them makes it all more real, they explain.

We didn't know each other, but there was something something like ''I understand you too, I'm sorry for you''. That's kind of what I felt in the courtroom, in the eyes that met, describes Jade.

The defense's recommended sentence is three years in custody, while the Crown suggests six years instead. For the two victims, there will never be an adequate sentence to repair the damage caused.

“I have to live with the consequences of these gestures in my life, and then it's probably going to stay that way all the time.

—Jade

Today, the two women say they are unable to regain a sense of confidence. The fear is always present when they are alone in a room with a man, even if it is a doctor or a co-worker in a meeting.

He there is always a fear that the person will abuse the situation, says Jade.

“[After the events], I been in a relationship with someone, it was enormously difficult. It happened, at night, when I went to bed, then all I felt was Patrick's hands on my body, then it was just impossible to get that out of my head. »

—Camille

Four years elapsed between the filing of the complaint and the guilty verdict. And the process is not yet complete.

That's the call coming. They say a maximum of two years, but they already told me a maximum of two years, so of course you start to lose hope at some point. Then, you tell yourself that it is ten years of your life that you are going to devote to this person, who has already taken a lot from you. The situation, yes, it marked me forever, then it was enormously difficult, but at the moment, the legal process is affecting me more than the situation as such, deplores Camille.

Patrick Chénard was sentenced on July 15 to six years and three months in prison, in addition to being placed on the sex offender register for life.

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