Former Hearst priest Fernand Villeneuve found not guilty of sexual assault

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Former Hearst priest Fernand Villeneuve found not guilty of sexual assault

Fernand Villeneuve was facing nine charges of a sexual nature. He pleaded not guilty at the start of his trial on March 10, 2022.

At the end of a trial that lasted seven months, the former priest of Hearst Fernand Villeneuve is recognized not guilty of sexual assault of a minor.

Judge Martin Lambert, of the Ontario Court of Justice, who heard the case, concludes that the whole of the evidence leaves [him] in doubt reasonable.

Portions of the complainant's testimony, he pointed out, called into question its reliability.

Fernand Villeneuve was facing nine counts of a sexual nature , in connection with facts which, according to the prosecution, would have occurred between 1985 and 1992, when Mr. Villeneuve was a priest at the parish of Notre-Dame de l'Assomption in Hearst.

The complainant was a minor at the time. A publication ban protects his identity.

During the trial, several people were called to testify, including police officers, a long-time parish volunteer, Pierrette McDonald, and the complainant's father.

In reading his verdict, Judge Lambert clarified that his decision was based on his assessment of both the complainant's credibility and reliability.

For example, during his testimony at the start of the trial, the plaintiff said he almost threw up, in 2019, after police officers asked him to identify his alleged attacker in photos, which the video filed as an exhibit. absolutely does not demonstrate, indicated the judge, thus concluding that the plaintiff had given, at least in part, false testimony.

This was hard evidence that [the complainant] embellished when testifying about an event that took place just three years ago, in 2019 , said the magistrate.

He also mentioned that during his testimony, [the complainant] was often aggressive, combative and evasive, refusing to answer certain questions alleging that the question had already been asked when she never had been.

“His fighting spirit during his trial surely did not add to his credibility. »

— Martin Lambert, Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice

Justice Lambert also pointed out certain inconsistencies between the complainant's testimony and that of the other persons heard during the of the trial.

In particular, the complainant alleged that he had been repeatedly assaulted at the presbytery and at the Sunday school, a youth coaching activity organized by the parish.

However, according to the long-time volunteer who also testified, the Sunday school took place during mass, […] in English and not after mass, […] in French as indicated by the complainant in his testimony.

The volunteer also claimed that the Sunday school was run by lay people and not priests, contrary to what the complainant had claimed.

I have no reason to reject Ms. McDonald's testimony. In fact, I fully accept her because she is a credible but also reliable witness, that she would have been able to give important details about the conduct of “Sunday school”, noted Judge Lambert.

“In accepting Ms. McDonald's evidence on this and rejecting the Complainant's evidence, I conclude that it is the reliability of her evidence that is at the heart of the issue. If his evidence is unreliable on this, what should I do with the rest of his testimony?

— Martin Lambert, Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice

The plaintiff also refused to accept a fact which is indisputable, according to the judge, by insisting that the hair of his alleged attacker was gray at the time of the alleged facts, while old photos from the time show that clearly, the hair [of Fernand Villeneuve] did not #x27;were not gray.

The judge also said he accepted the defense's evidence, according to which, between 1983 and 1990, various other people lived at the rectory, including nuns and assistants.

So it is difficult here to see how 300 to 500 attacks could have taken place without everyone's knowledge, notes Judge Lambert.

“These kinds of lawsuits are always difficult. […] What I cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt is that [the complainant] was sexually assaulted by Fernand Villeneuve during the alleged period. The evidence adduced by the defense including the evidence of the accused and Mrs. McDonald, in addition to the gaps in the prosecution's evidence, including the identification evidence leave me with a reasonable doubt which must be resolved by favor of the accused.

— Martin Lambert, Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice

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