Alleged victim takes stand at sex assault trial of ex-PQ member Harold LeBel
QUEBEC — The alleged victim at the sex assault trial of former Quebec provincial politician Harold LeBel told the jury Tuesday she was repeatedly touched against her will during the course of an entire night at the accused’s condo in October 2017.
LeBel, 60, a former Parti Québécois member of the legislature, has pleaded not guilty to one count of sexual assault in the case being heard in Rimouski, Que.
The identity of the alleged victim is protected by a publication ban.
She told the court she spent an evening at LeBel’s condo along with another woman.
The alleged victim told the court the conversation took on a more personal tone when she found herself alone with LeBel, but she said there wasn’t anything weird and that she felt “confident” with him, who she considered a “father figure” and seemed to be “depressed.”
That was until he suddenly put his hands on her thighs and kissed her, the complainant told the court. She said she was “extremely surprised,” and had “no attraction towards Harold LeBel,” as she recoiled from him.
She told LeBel she was tired and wanted to shower and go to bed, but alleged that LeBel followed her and undid her bra before she could enter the bathroom.
“He started arguing,” the complainant said, pushing her to stay and trying to open the locked bathroom door.
“I was in complete shock,” the alleged victim said, adding she was trembling in the bathroom. “I didn’t understand what I was living through.” According to the woman, LeBel, out of nowhere, had become someone “completely different.”
Once she’d come out of the shower, she went to sleep in the Murphy bed in LeBel’s living room when the accused asked if he could lay next to her.
“I felt bad. I was afraid that he would be angry, that he would no longer be my friend,” she told the jury.
The unwanted advances and touching continued throughout the night, with the accused allegedly touching and squeezing her buttocks.
“I mobilized my whole body not to move,” she told the court, recalling that she felt “vulnerable” and thinking it might be “worse” if she moved.
She told the jury she waited all night for the acts to stop but they continued until sunrise.
The alleged victim later confided in the car to the other woman who had stayed at the condo, crying in the car and imploring her not to tell anyone.
“I didn’t want to cause trouble, cause waves,” the alleged victim said, adding she was hurting from having stayed tense and rigid all night.
Prosecutor Manon Gaudreault told the jury that LeBel had “crossed the line” of the friendship and the complainant had tried to “sweep that from her memory, without success.”
LeBel was arrested on Dec. 15, 2020, leading to his removal from the PQ caucus.
He was first elected to the legislature in 2014 and re-elected in 2018 as a PQ member. He did not seek re-election in the vote last month.
Superior Court Justice Serge Francoeur is presiding over the trial, which is expected to last two to three weeks.
The trial is to continue on Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2022.
Caroline Plante, The Canadian Press
How ‘severe and unusual’ smoke from Canadian wildfires is spreading and what it means for your health
Vast portions of eastern Canada and the United States are covered in smoke and haze, as wildfires continue to rage out of control in Quebec and other provinces.
The smoke has prompted air quality warnings in many cities and towns in Quebec, Ontario and beyond in Canada, and resulted in hazy, apocalyptic skies and warnings in places like New York City and Washington, D.C.
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CBC News spoke to experts and consulted recent studies to show the potential health impacts of the smoke in the air — and the extent to which it has spread across North America.
“The levels of air pollution that we’re seeing today are severe and unusual in Canada and in parts of the U.S.,” said Rebecca Saari, an air quality expert and associate professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Waterloo.
“These are poor air quality days, especially in certain areas, where people should be aware and protecting themselves.”
She says such events are likely to be more common as climate change intensifies and prolongs the hot, dry conditions that wildfires need to thrive.
For June, the fire risk is considered well above average in almost every province and territory. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the risk is considered average. In P.E.I., the risk is low across the island.
Overall, people across Canada are facing an especially difficult wildfire season, and federal government officials have said their modelling shows increased wildfire risk in most of the country through August.
Roughly 130 forest fires are currently burning in Quebec, with just under 100 of them considered out of control.
A storm system off the eastern coast of Nova Scotia has pushed the smoke from those fires toward Ontario and to the U.S., with poor visibility as far south as North Carolina and into the Midwest.
It has also spread further east, and officials as far as Norway warned the smoke could affect air quality there on Thursday.
The air quality improved early Thursday in Ontario and Quebec, but was forecast to get worse in many parts of Ontario again later in the day and through the weekend.
How bad is the haze?
Different countries use different indexes to measure air quality.
While the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) used in Canada reflects current knowledge of the health effects associated with air pollution and measures on a scale of 10, the Air Quality Index (AQI) used in the U.S. is based on air quality standards and is measured on a scale of 0 to 500. The higher the value, the greater the level of air pollution.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the AQI exceeded a staggering 400 at times in Syracuse, New York City and Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. A level of 50 or under is considered good; anything over 300 is considered “hazardous.”
Meanwhile, the air quality in Toronto ranked among the worst in the world for much of Wednesday, near the level of Delhi, India, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, according to IQair, an online service that monitors and tracks air quality using the AQI.
The levels in Kingston and points further east in Ontario were considerably worse on both scales.
Those areas had among the highest levels of particulate matter — known as PM2.5 levels — in the country.
Those particles are so small — 30 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair — that they can go into the lungs and into the bloodstream, said Dr. Samir Gupta, a respirologist and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
“So you can imagine the havoc that they wreak in the lungs themselves,” he said. “That’s the most sensitive organ to all of this in terms of breathing symptoms, particularly people who have underlying lung conditions like asthma.”
Air quality in terms of cigarettes
A recent Stanford University study quantified what breathing in that particulate matter would mean in terms of cigarettes.
According to the study, an AQI measurement of 20 is equivalent to smoking one cigarette a day.
The study noted that exposure to wildfire smoke causing an AQI of 150 for several days would be equivalent to smoking about seven cigarettes a day if someone were outside the whole time.
By that calculation, Kingston residents who spent eight hours outside Wednesday smoked the equivalent of nine cigarettes.
Most of Western Canada had a break from the smoky air after struggling with poor quality last month, though some regions, including Vancouver, were designated as “moderate risk.”
If an area has been designated as “very high risk,” Environment Canada advises the general population to reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities.
It recommended that at-risk populations, such as young children, seniors and those with chronic conditions, to avoid strenuous activities altogether.
Many of the tips people picked up during the pandemic are useful now, said Scott Weichenthal, an associate professor in the department of epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational health at McGill University in Montreal.
“If you have to work outside, wear a mask, a proper mask that filters out the small particles, like an N95 mask,” he said.
“If you don’t need to be outside when it’s very polluted, don’t be.”
Forest fire smoke envelops Toronto, bringing poor air quality, pollution
Environment Canada has increased the air quality risk level for Toronto on Wednesday, up from Tuesday, as forest fire smoke continues to blanket the city.
A special air quality statement remained in place for the city on Wednesday night, saying high levels of pollution had developed due to the wildfires in Quebec and northeastern Ontario.
The federal weather agency predicts Toronto will reach a risk level of nine on the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) on Thursday. The index measures air quality based on how it will impact health. That number indicates high risk during the day and means people may want to consider cancelling outdoor activities.
“There’s a ridge over Ontario right now, so it means these winds are consistently bringing in poor air quality,” said Trudy Kidd, an operational metrologist with Environment Canada.
On Tuesday, the city was at moderate risk and on a level five on the scale of one to ten.
Moderate risk levels mean the general population need not cancel “usual activities” unless you start to experience symptoms like throat or cough irritation. For at-risk populations at that risk level, people are urged to consider rescheduling outdoor activities if symptoms are present, according to Environment Canada.
Those with lung disease, such as asthma, people with heart disease, older people, children, pregnant people and those who work outside are at higher risk of experiencing health effects, the agency said.
Don’t light campfires, premier says
Premier Doug Ford commented on the wildfires and poor conditions on Wednesday during question period, urging the public refrain from lighting campfires.
Ford said half of the forest fires in Ontario were started by lightning strikes and the other half were caused by human activity, such as campfires not being properly extinguished.
When the index indicates a high level of risk, the general population should consider rescheduling or reducing outdoor activities if symptoms are experienced. At-risk populations should reschedule outdoor activities, according to Environment Canada.
“Stop those outdoor activities and contact a health-care provider, if you or someone in your care experiences shortness of breath or wheezing, asthma attacks, cough, dizziness or chest pains,” Kidd said.
“Poor air quality will persist into the weekend,” Environment Canada said. The agency’s most recent statement was firmer than Tuesday, as the agency previously said there were hopes the conditions would ease by the weekend. A low pressure system that could bring in cleaner air may arrive by Sunday, Kidd said.
“Wildfire smoke can be harmful to everyone’s health even at low concentrations. Continue to take actions to protect your health and reduce exposure to smoke,” Environment Canada said.
Air quality and visibility due to the wildfire smoke can fluctuate over short distances and can vary considerably from hour to hour. But wildfire smoke can be harmful even at low concentrations, it said.
Wear a mask if outside, Environment Canada suggests
If you must spend time outdoors, Environment Canada recommends wearing a well-fitted respirator type mask, such as an N95, to help reduce exposure to fine particles in smoke.
“These fine particles generally pose the greatest risk to health. However, respirators do not reduce exposure to the gases in wildfire smoke,” the federal weather agency said.
Environment Canada recommends the following:
- If you or someone in your care experiences shortness of breath, wheezing, severe cough, dizziness or chest pains, stop outdoor activities and contact your health care provider.
- If you are feeling unwell and experiencing symptoms, stay inside.
- Keep your indoor air clean.
- Keep your doors and windows closed if the temperature in your home is comfortable.
- Take a break from the smoke by temporarily relocating or finding a place in your community with clean, cool air such as a library, shopping mall or community centre.
- If you must spend time outdoors, a well-fitted respirator type mask that does not allow air to pass through small openings between the mask and your face can help reduce your exposure to fine particles in smoke.
- Be sure to check on people in your care and those who may be more susceptible to smoke.
- Evacuate if told to do so.
- Review your wildfire smoke plan and make sure you have enough medical supplies if the smoke continues to be an issue.
Toronto-area school board moves recess indoors
Due to the air quality warning for the Toronto area, one school board in the region has opted to move recess inside for safety, while others say they are monitoring the situation.
The York Catholic District School Board said in a statement on Tuesday evening that indoor recess would be held indoors all day on Wednesday due to poor air quality.
The Peel District School Board said Tuesday that “strenuous outdoor activities” scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday would be cancelled, including athletic events. While outdoor recess is allowed to continue, it encouraged students to “avoid strenuous activity” and stay inside if they chose.
The Toronto District School Board made the same changes and issued the same guidance as Peel. Further, it said “TDSB schools will also ensure that HEPA air filters are continuing to be used,” and it will monitor the situation. The Toronto Catholic District School Board left the choice up to schools, stating that it recommends indoor recess be considered along with possibly rescheduling activities.
The Dufferin Catholic District School Board said it will also keep an eye on the air quality on Wednesday and that it would be going ahead with field trips due to difficulties in rescheduling.
Schools aren’t the only thing in the city that’s affected — in an e-mail sent to CBC News, Toronto Blue Jays spokesperson Madeleine Davidson said that due to poor air quality, the dome is closed for Wednesday night’s baseball game.
On Wednesday night, the Toronto Zoo said it would limit its hours from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday due to poor air quality from the smoke and provide protective masks to staff and volunteers required to work outdoors.
The zoo said it would also limit access to the outdoors for some animals as well as limit the amount of time that staff and volunteers work outside.
Wildfires fought by volunteers: Here’s what to know
More than 400 wildfires are burning thousands of hectares of forest and land across Canada in an “unprecedented” start to wildfire season.
Ken McMullen, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs says, in his career, he’s never seen such an early and devastating start to the wildfires season marked by large fires in regions countrywide.
“We’re seeing fires like we’ve never seen before, at an earlier stage in the month of May than we’ve ever seen,” McMullen told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.
Volunteers comprise the majority of Canada’s firefighting capacity, putting aside their day jobs when they are called. McMullen estimates, of the 126,000 firefighters countrywide, between 80,000 and 90,000 are volunteers.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said, suggesting most Canadians have no idea. “The volunteer system has been around for centuries, and it works most of the time. What it isn’t designed for is for the long, sustained, drawn-out events similar to what we’re seeing in the wildfires.”
Given the current needs, and the expectation they will not be reduced in the future, McMullen says there needs to be more incentive for people to become volunteer firefighters.
“Right now our volunteers get a tax incentive of up to $3,000,” he said. “I know we use the term volunteer, but the fact of the matter is there is some form of remuneration given to these volunteers in our communities and we’ve asked the government to increase that tax incentive from $3,000 to $10,000 annually.”
On June 8, 2022, six fires were burning out of control , among active wildfires covering 30, 575 hectares.
The latest data available, according to records from the National Wildland Fire Situation Report, as of May 31, 2023, 45 fires were uncontrolled and 2.7 million hectares of land had been burned.
Given the extreme season, McMullen says fire crews are “absolutely exhausted.”
“But they continue to do what they do every single day, which is to go out and give every effort that they possibly can to keep ourselves in our community safe,” he said.
McMullen says training for more firefighters, including Indigenous fire crews, would also help.
“Indigenous communities just have a very different understanding of fire,” he said. “They use it differently, they respect it differently, they’ve lived on the land for such a long time that they understand what the fire risk is in their city…They also protect their communities in a very different matter than us.”
To watch the full interview click the video at the top of this article.
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