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Man acquitted of sexually assaulting his daughter

Provincial Court, Atlantic Place, St. John's.  — Telegram file
Provincial Court, Atlantic Place, St. John's. — Telegram file

Evidence against 38-year-old was ‘too fragile,’ judge rules

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

A 38-year-old father was acquitted Thursday of charges of sexually assaulting his daughter, with the judge saying the girl's evidence was just too fragile to lead to a conviction.

The man, who can't be named in order to protect his daughter's identity, sat in the dock with his supporters sitting behind him as Judge Jacqueline Brazil delivered her verdict.

His daughter's supporters were in the courtroom, too.

The man's trial took place over two days last week, with his now-teenage daughter testifying via video from the province where she now lives.

She told the court her father had sexually abused her from the time she was six or seven, kissing her in a way that was inappropriate for a parent, touching her inside and outside her clothes, and rubbing his groin against her buttocks. The girl said she disclosed the allegations to a social worker in September 2017.

Brazil began delivering her verdict Thursday morning with an explanation of the law when it comes to reasonable doubt, saying although the Crown is not required to prove anything with absolute certainty, it's not enough to believe an accused is likely or probably guilty.

The judge also noted that credibility tests reserved for adult witnesses cannot be applied to children, though the same standards of proof apply.

Brazil noted the girl had expressed having a strong dislike for her father, but had been adamant that wasn't the reason she made allegations against him. She had wanted to protect her younger sibling, the judge said.

The girl had testified under cross-examination that she had wanted to move out of the province for a long time. Responding to direct questions from the judge, she said she had also testified about the alleged sexual abuse in family court, at a hearing to determine whether or not her mother could leave the province with one of the girl's siblings.

"I do not accept that the criminal burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt has been met in this case," Brazil said Thursday. "(The girl's) description of the alleged assaults are sometimes vague - for example, when she described what happened when the accused succeeded in placing his hands down her pants, she said she blocked it out - or they're subject to misinterpretation; the kissing of the back of the neck and the jaw. She explained the vagueness by stating that she tried to block out the assaults from her mind, but this vagueness has to be resolved in favour of the accused.

"She gave more detail about the single alleged instance of French kissing and regular rubbing of his crotch against her bottom, but I must consider these allegations in the context of the concerns I have about vagueness and misinterpretation," Brazil continued. "When I consider the concerns that I have with this evidence, with the obvious dislike that (the girl) has for her father, and her undenied wish to live in (another province), reasonable doubt is raised. When I apply a common-sense assessment to her evidence, it is my conclusion that it is too fragile to convict her father of these allegations."

After Brazil acquitted the man of charges of sexual assault and sexual interference, he entered guilty pleas to charges of mischief and breaching the province's Family Violence Protection Act.

Defence lawyer Michael Ralph and Crown prosecutor Jessica Gallant indicated they are likely to present a joint submission on sentencing for the man on those charges. He'll return to court May 6.

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