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She said the beginning of the journey began in a courtroom “like this one” in Colombia when police escorted her toddler son’s father from prison to sign the release so she could take the boy to Panama for “vacation.”
On the afternoon of day two in the Gatineau, Que., trial of suspended Senator Patrick Brazeau, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and sexual assault, defence lawyer Gerard Larocque attacked the credibility of the alleged victim during cross-examination. First he pressed her on details of her tale of escape to Canada and then suggested the RCMP helped her get permanent status in exchange for dirt on the fallen Algonquin politician.
When he hit a dead-end, Larocque abruptly switched to the subject of a necklace Brazeau gave the woman. The slight necklace belonged to Brazeau’s mother and the alleged victim said she ripped it off during the incident on that Thursday morning of Feb. 7, 2013.
By focusing on the woman’s mostly underground journey to Canada, Larocque unearthed a Hollywood-worthy tale of a mother fleeing Colombia to protect her two children by embarking on the oft-trod clandestine path taken by Latin Americans heading to El Norte.
The woman told a story of mini-bus rides through Central America and forged passports in Mexico before landing at the airport in Montreal with her son and a daughter sometime in March of 2008 where she faced interrogation into the early morning hours.
The alleged victim, who can’t be identified by name because of a publication ban, said she had to flee Colombia to protect her children because there were threats against them.
“I left Colombia for that reason,” said the woman, who was an accountant and director of the library in the university from where she graduated.
Canada was her intended final destination, but her visa application to enter the country had previously been rejected.
So, she decided to go underground.
After arranging through local lawyers to have her son’s father escorted to a courtroom to sign a release so she could take the boy out of the country, she flew to Panama. She said the father believed she was only going for vacation, but she had previously arranged to meet a man who would arrange the passage to Canada.
It cost her about 25 million Colombian pesos to make the journey, which was about $13,000 US dollars based on the exchange rate in the first part of 2008. In 2009, the average monthly Colombian salary was about 570,000 pesos.
The alleged victim wouldn’t reveal who the man was, the fixer, in Panama. She said he used fake names and didn’t remember the one he went by at the time. She said one of the contacts along the way was named “Maria.”
From Panama she drove through Costa Rica to Guatemala in a “small car” with the fixer, a driver and her two children. In Guatemala she said she changed vehicles and traveled in a small bus, with five other people picked up along the way, to Mexico. She said she wasn’t asked to show any documentation at any of the customs check points. She would have passed through Nicaragua and either Honduras or El Salvador, depending on the route her fixer took to Guatemala.
In Mexico, she and her two children had photos taken for the fake passports that had been pre-arranged. She said she needed the Mexican passports to get into Canada because she had been previously denied a visa under her real name.
She stayed a month in Mexico before flying into Montreal, with at least $3,000US hidden in her coat, sometime in March of 2008. When she reached the Canadian customs officer she presented six passports, three Colombian and three Mexican, and said the Mexican documents were fake. She said the customs officer seized all the passports. She denied she also brought money hidden in her socks.
“They made me go into a room and made me wait until 1, 2 a.m.,” she testified. “They were looking for an interpreter and looking for information. I went to another office and they started interrogating me.”
She said it was difficult for her to recall all the details of that day.
“It’s difficult for me to remember everything in 2008,” she said, after Larocque pressed her on the money hidden in socks. “At that moment I had a lot of emotion, fear, stress, I didn’t know what would happen when I arrived here with my two children.”
She applied for refugee status and, sometime in 2013, received her permanent residency status and got all six passports back.
It was at this point that Larocque began pressing her on the date she received the status. She couldn’t remember and Larocque tried to have Judge Valmont Beaulieu order her to bring the document to court Wednesday. Beaulieu rejected the request. But he did order her to bring her six passports to court.
Larocque suggested that the victim received her residency because she helped the RCMP with their separate investigation into Brazeau and his Senate housing allowance. Brazeau is facing one charge of breach of trust in Ontario as a result of that investigation. The charge stems from his claiming of the $22,000 per year in housing allowance by listing his father’s home in Maniwaki, Que., as his permanent residence.
“I want to suggest that your situation in Canada improved after being in contact with the RCMP,” said Larocque.
Crown prosecutor Sylvain Petitclerc said Larocque achieved little with that line of questioning.
“It was very, very long, for nothing,” said Petitclerc to reporters after the day’s hearing.
Larocque abruptly switched his line of questioning after the victim recounted the part about the police officers escorting her son’s father to a courtroom to sign the release.
He asked for a replay of the 911 audio and then went after the necklace.
“You had a chain around your neck that my client gave you?” said Larocque.
The woman said, yes, she had the necklace, which was Brazeau’s mother’s, around her neck when the alleged attack began in full.
Larocque said the alleged victim never mentioned the thin necklace, which snapped when she yanked it off her neck, in the various statements she gave to the police or the Crown prosecutor. He said she never mentioned the necklace when she was asked earlier Tuesday to circle the bruises and scratches on her body in photos taken shortly after the alleged attack.
She said she didn’t remember it, that there were a lot of details she didn’t remember from that day. She said she didn’t remember the bruises Brazeau left on her buttocks until she saw the photos Tuesday morning.
She said she yanked the necklace while she was on the ground, at the top of the stairs as Brazeau, also on the ground, pushed her from behind with his feet. She said he was demanding the necklace back.
“I grabbed it and said ‘take your mother’s chain,’” she said.
She said she pulled the necklace off with her left hand.
“It’s a formal choice you made not to speak about the necklace,” said Larocque. “Because those injuries (to the neck) would have been from your actions.”
She denied it.
“Not from my actions,” she said. “He grabbed me by the neck.”
Larocque leaned into her, pressing on.
“Never before had you mentioned that you ripped off the necklace,” he said.
“Yes because here is my opportunity to speak about everything and respond to all the questions in detail that you want to know about what happened,” she said.
Larocque then said she yanked off the necklace in the bedroom, not at the top of the stairs.
She denied it.
“That is what enraged you, that he wanted the necklace back,” he said.
“False,” she said.
Court then broke for the day.
The trial resumes Wednesday morning. The trial is expected to last beyond this week.