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Crown stays six sexual assault charges against rural Manitoba doctor

People enter the Law Courts in Winnipeg on Feb.5, 2018. A Winnipeg court has heard Crown prosecutors are staying six sexual assault charges against a doctor in rural Manitoba. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG — A sexual assault trial for a doctor in rural Manitoba ended before it could begin Wednesday when the Crown stayed six charges more than a week after it was scheduled to start.

Crown prosecutors told a Winnipeg court that they couldn't go through with the trial for Dr. Arcel Bissonnette after new evidence came into play.

"The Crown's obligation to assess reasonable likelihood of conviction is ongoing throughout a prosecution," said Nadine Vasas.

She told Manitoba Court of King's Bench Justice Anne Turner that the Crown reassessed the six charges of sexual assault against Bissonnette.

"Based on that assessment, the Crown is entering a stay of proceedings at this time."

Bissonnette had been accused of assaulting female patients when he worked in Ste. Anne, a town southeast of Winnipeg.

The charges were from Bissonnette's time working at the hospital and a medical centre in the town of more than 2,800 people.

Ste. Anne police charged Bissonnette in 2020 with assaulting six patients between 2004 and 2017.

The judge-alone trial was supposed to start last week but was delayed to address evidence that may have been lost or destroyed.

The former lead investigator in the case told court last week she kept detailed records in notebooks that she left with the police department when she took a new job in 2019, but defence lawyers said they only got a few pages of notes.

Bissonnette's lawyers said they were considering their own stay application, citing an abuse of process.

The trial was adjourned to give time for the Crown and police to track down the documents or determine whether they were destroyed.

"Where are the notebooks? That is the key evidence," Lisa LaBossiere, a lawyer for the doctor, said last week.

LaBossiere added it's concerning there are aspects of the investigation with no documentation.

The Crown would not comment on what the new disclosure of evidence is or why it prompted the stay.

"New information came to light that led the Crown to reassess its case. After a detailed and thorough review of the evidence, the Crown determined that there was no longer a reasonable likelihood of conviction," a Manitoba government spokesperson said in an email.

Bissonnette's lawyers did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

"As much as I would like to comment on this now, given that this is still before the courts, the police department will be refraining from any comments," Ste-Anne police Chief Marc Robichaud wrote in an email.

Police laid an additional 16 sexual assault charges against Bissonnette in 2021 after more complainants came forward. Those charges are to be tried separately.

The province declined to say how or if the Crown's decision to stay the charges will affect additional cases against Bissonnette.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Jan. 25, 2023.

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

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