Content warning: this story contains graphic discussions of sexual assault that may be disturbing to some readers. A list of NL-based resources for survivors can be found at the end of this article.

It is no overstatement that the entire province seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief on Saturday when former RNC Constable Carl Douglas Snelgrove was found guilty of sexual assault.

It was not an easy road to reach this point. It was not easy for the thousands of survivors, advocates and allies who protested, rallied and spoke out following each successive twist and turn of the tortuous legal process. It was not easy for those working to achieve justice within a legal system that, in the words of the Crown Prosecutor, “stumbled” its way toward the eventual guilty verdict.

And it was not easy for the complainant, publicly known only as Jane Doe, who refused to let Snelgrove—then a uniformed police officer—get away with his crime. She demonstrated a tremendous strength and fortitude, doggedly pursuing her attacker through multiple rounds of preliminary questioning, brutal cross-examination, and three criminal trials in a process spanning six years of her life.

Her victory will have a permanent impact on sexual assault cases both provincially and nationally. This victory was far from easy, and the process of getting to it has revealed just how difficult it is for sexual assault survivors to obtain justice.

It’s a victory to be celebrated. But it also needs to provoke profound discussion about what we, as a society, can do to make justice more accessible for survivors of sexual assault.

What follows is a day-by-day account of the third and final criminal trial of Carl Douglas Snelgrove.

Why offer such an extensive account of a trial that’s already been reported in the media? The manner in which sexual assault cases are handled continues to draw criticism. Sexual assault trials remain confrontational and traumatic for survivors, and the burden of proof required to convict criminals remains staggeringly high. All of this deters other survivors from coming forward. Providing a detailed account of what happened in the courtroom demonstrates the procedural brutality of these trials.

In 2014—the same year Snelgrove committed his crime—YWCA Canada published a telling analysis of the roughly 460,000 sexual assaults that happen every year in Canada. Out of every 1000 sexual assaults, it revealed, only 33 are reported to police—and only three lead to a conviction.

This case is now one of those three. But it has taken six years and immense effort to get here. We hope that an account of this trial will help to facilitate the dialogue and reform urgently needed by a legal system that continues to “stumble”—at best—toward justice.

(Note: Following the style of Emily Deming’s excellent coverage of the previous trial for The Independent, and the first one for The Overcast, I refer to the survivor as ‘W.’ There is a publication ban on her real name, an important measure to protect the privacy of survivors.)

The Third Snelgrove Trial

The trial takes place at the former School for the Deaf on Topsail Road, a location selected in part because its expansive, empty rooms offer prime space for Covid-era social distancing. Normally, media sits in the same chamber as the proceedings. But because of Covid it was decided to set up a separate space for media in the old school gym. A large-screen television sits in the front of the gym, with an even larger theatre-sized screen behind it on which the proceedings are projected. A speaker stack on the far right wall offers an audio feed of middling quality.

I missed the opening day of the trial: the selection of jurors (quick and easy, other reporters tell me) and the first witness, Constable Muise, who took the initial report from the survivor. That evening I was assigned the story, and showed up the next morning for what turned out to be the key moment of the trial: W’s testimony.

But first, there’s a half hour delay because the audio feed from the courtroom to the media room is not working properly. The judge shrugs helplessly toward the jury.

“We are the victims of technology,” he sighs.

Vikas Khaladkar is the closest thing NL has to a rockstar judge. He was born in Tanzania and raised in India, a childhood friend of Freddie Mercury. During a recent attempted murder trial he took the entire court—escorted by sheriff’s deputies—for a stroll up Signal Hill to check out the crime scene in person. He previously worked as an archaeologist, before specializing in First Nations law in Saskatchewan. He speaks in a deep, gravelly voice that sounds like Liam Neeson.

The photo of him presiding over a court atop Signal Hill, clad in leather jacket and baseball cap, is a stark contrast from the ritual robes he wears today. The previous two trials were set aside because of errors made by judges. Will he guide us through this one successfully?

Finally the technicians triumph and the trial resumes. W— ‘Jane Doe’—enters the room.

W’s Testimony

Content warning: this section contains graphic discussions of sexual assault that may be disturbing to some readers. A list of NL-based resources for survivors can be found at the end of this article.

W has been the focus of countless support rallies, speeches, and news articles over the past six years; it’s a shock to suddenly see her in person. She walks to the witness stand with a straight, determined bearing. A clerk hands her a bottle of water.

W’s tone in answering questions from the Crown, in telling her story, is level and firm but dry, a sort of low monotone. Crown Prosecutor Lloyd Strickland asked questions that are brief and to-the-point, providing space for her to describe her experience.

It was a Saturday—December 20, 2014—and she went to work at her job in a local retail store from about 7:00 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon. She went home and had supper. A friend texted her to invite her over. He picked her up and they drove to Mount Pearl, stopping at the liquor store on the way. She purchased two four-packs of coolers for herself. She was wearing purple jeans, a flower top, a pink coat and black boots.

W and three friends hung out at the house for a few hours. They drank, played games together on their phones, listened to music. As the night progressed, they decided to go downtown to Velvet nightclub. They called a cab, and shortly after midnight they piled in and went downtown. A very typical night for young people in their early twenties.

When they got to Velvet, the group continued to drink and dance and hang out—precisely what they did and drank will be the subject of extensive cross-examination. W recalls she got progressively more drunk as the night went on, and eventually decided it wasn’t safe for her to be out any more. Without telling her friends she retrieved her coat and left the bar to catch a cab home.

As she headed toward Water Street to hail a cab, she saw a police car. The officer rolled down his window and asked if she needed a ride home.

“I was going to get a cab, but I felt like in the drunken state that I was in, it was better to go with a police officer than a cab driver,” she recalls. “A police officer should be safer than a cab driver.”

They drove to her home. The door to her basement apartment was at the back of the house and so she went around back to the door. She remembers Snelgrove coming with her. She couldn’t find her keys. Snelgrove asked if she had a friend she could call. She tried phoning one friend, but they got cut off (this friend would testify the next day).

She and the officer looked for another way into the apartment. Her kitchen window was unlocked, so he was able to slide it open. It was a small window but she was able to climb through and get inside.

Snelgrove said he wanted to make sure everything was okay before he left, and asked her to open the apartment door.

W testified: “I let him in, and then I remember standing up in the living room, in the middle of the living room. We would have been talking. And then I remember that we did kiss. I don’t remember who initiated it or what happened, but we did kiss. And then I remember sitting down on my love seat because I was just too drunk and I needed to sit down. And the next thing after that I recall is that I came to and none of my clothes were on and he was standing above me having anal sex with me.”

What brought her back to consciousness, she figures, is that he was talking to her, saying he had missed calls and had to go. She remembers seeing him fixing himself up in her bathroom. After that, nothing until she awoke the next morning in bed. She has no recollection of consenting to have sex with him. Strickland asked whether a condom was used; she found no sign of any the next day.

W slowly pieced together what had happened. She recalls it hurting when she went to the bathroom in the morning, and she had a rash on her legs that resembled a friction burn. She called a friend, and told her what happened.

Strickland: “Did you think about going to the police the next day?”

W: “I did think about it as well when I was talking to [her friend] but I figured there was no sense in reporting it as I would have to go to the RNC and I was just a drunk girl and he was a police officer… I didn’t know what he looked like and I didn’t know his name.”

Of course, W did eventually report it. A few weeks later, in January, she shared a cab with a man she had met that night. When they got out at his place and she started to walk home he started following her. She got frightened, and called 911. They dispatched a police car. When the RNC showed up, it was a female officer.

“Once I was in the car with a female officer, it was like, this is my time to tell it, if I do it at all. So then I just told her what happened [with Snelgrove]. She parked the car and I told her whatever that I could remember about it.”

Thus began the investigation, and the long road to where we are now.

W’s Testimony: the Cross-Examination

Defense attorneys Jon Noonan (left) and Randy Piercey (centre). Photo by Rhea Rollmann.

Snelgrove’s defense begin their cross-examination. He has two lawyers: Randy Piercey and Jon Noonan. This task falls to Piercey, who commences almost apologetically. His tone is gentle and grandfatherly—an impression amplified by his shaggy white hair and moustache—but the substance of his questions is harsh and aggressive.

His aim quickly becomes apparent. By contrasting W’s statements in the first, second and now third trial, he seeks to pinpoint inconsistencies. Something she didn’t remember or only vaguely remembered in one trial, she remembers more clearly in another. Something she stated definitively in the first trial, she is now no longer sure of years later. He zeroes in on the minutiae of her statements.

It’s important to point out that much of the present defense strategy is only possible because it has taken three trials, spanning six years, to reach this point. Snelgrove’s defense has moved on from just grappling with issues of consent: now they are pitting one trial against the other, in an effort to stoke doubt and flag inconsistency.

The defense also seeks to establish that W was not as drunk as she said she was. This is a key point for them. Snelgrove admits to having sex; what would make that criminal in the eyes of the law is if he did not have consent. And even if W did give consent to any aspect of their encounter (she doesn’t remember), it was 3:30 a.m., she was alone and she’d had a great deal to drink that night. Was she in fact capable of giving informed consent, to a police officer standing in the middle of her apartment? That’s the crux of the matter from a legal perspective.

But it’s not all: Snelgrove may not in fact have to prove he had consent, but only that he had sufficient reason to think he had consent. So if she appeared sober enough for a police officer to think she was consenting to sex, then he could be off the hook. And so questioning also revolves around how drunk she seemed, to friends and those around her that night.

Piercey faces W on the stand; she stares back at him impassively.

“This is the fourth time I’ve cross-examined you,” Piercey opened. “This is the fourth time I’ve asked you questions. I have the understanding—correct me if I’m wrong—you’re not saying you didn’t consent, you’re saying you were too drunk.”

W replied: “Yes, I don’t know if I consented or not, I don’t remember.”

Strickland objects to use of the term consent: that’s for the jury to decide, and Piercey shouldn’t be asking her to concede that point.

The judge reflects for a moment. “She can say whether she agreed or not. Let’s not use the word consent because that has other connotations.”

Piercey doesn’t like this—“Okay, so this is the way lawyers are now!” he exclaims. But he accepts it, and turns back to W.

“So what I was supposed to ask you there—you can’t say that you didn’t agree, you can only say ‘I can’t remember agreeing.’”

W: “Correct.”

Piercey explained that he intends to focus on her mental capability that night. The defense hammers her, challenging her recollection of how much she drank, her black-outs, her tripping and bruised knees. They will later challenge her friends’ recollections of how much she had to drink, and what state she was in. They aim to show that she was sober enough to offer consent, or at least to plausibly appear like she was offering consent.

She had at least five Black Fly coolers before heading downtown, she recalls. By that point she was already drunk, and doesn’t recall what she had at the bar.

W: “I got more drunk so I had to have drunk something, it’s just that the memory isn’t there so I don’t know what I drank.”

Piercey: “Okay, but do you know that you drank?”

W: “Yes.”

Piercey: “How do you know that you drank?”

W: “Because I had money that night, I don’t know how much I spent but I had done shots at the bar. I don’t know, I don’t remember what I drank or how much I drank. I just know [I drank].”

Piercey: “It could have been one drink.”

W: “Sure it could have. I don’t know.”

Piercey: “It could have been zero drinks.”

W: “It could have. I don’t know.”

Piercey: “You got to know! This is this man’s life, right?”

W: “Yes I do know that! This has been six years of my life as well!”

Piercey: “You drank five drinks that night, that’s what you know, right?”

W: “Yes.”

Piercey tries to reconstruct what she did at the bar.

Piercey: “When you went downtown, do you remember dancing with somebody?”

W: “Yes, I was dancing with Y [a friend].”

Piercey: “And for how long were you dancing?”

W: “I have no idea.”

Piercey: “Could it have been two hours?”

W: “It could have been the whole time. I don’t know.”

Piercey: “Because I asked you this question once before in another trial [checks papers], it was before Judge Marshall… page 37 of volume 2 [of the court transcript], I asked you ‘So if Y says you were dancing for a couple of hours, that’s quite possible.”

W: “Yes, I said I don’t know. I don’t know what anybody else is going to say. I know that I was dancing, I don’t know how long I was dancing.”

Piercey: “But it could have been a couple of hours.”

W: “It could have. I could have been on the dance floor all night.”

Piercey: “Was the bar packed?”

W: “I don’t know, as I already said.”

Piercey: “But there was nothing wrong with your apparent ability to dance, if you were dancing for two hours, right?”

W: “Well I could have fallen down, I don’t know where I fell down to.” [she had bruised knees the next morning]

Piercey: “But certainly there was a room full of people who saw you dancing for two hours.”

W: “I guess?”

The entire performance brings to mind two people wrestling over a zoom lens, one trying to maintain focus on the big picture, the other feverishly spinning the wheel the other way, trying to zoom in on the tiniest variegated pixel and dissect it, piece by piece. Big picture. Tiny pixel. The emotion that finally breaks in W’s voice doesn’t sound like distress so much as exasperation—her effort to focus on what happened constantly countered by the minutiae of Piercey’s demand for intricate details, details that do not deviate in any way from those provided at any other point over the past six years.

Piercey is determined to show that she was either sober or appeared sober to those around her. She eventually decided to leave the bar: “I felt like I was too drunk to be out, so I didn’t tell anybody that I was leaving and I just got my coat and left.”

Piercey turns on this as a refutation of her drunkenness.

Piercey: “That was a reasoned, thought-out decision.”

W: “Correct.”

Piercey: “You knew where to get a cab.”

W: “Yes. All I had to do was walk down the stairs and there’s cabs going back and forth all Saturday night.”

Piercey: “I mean I know that doesn’t require a lot of thinking—“

W: “No.”

Piercey: “—but there was some thought process going on, right?”

W: “Well I guess there would have been some thought, I would have had to leave the bar.”

Piercey asked W about the ride home with Snelgrove, and unsheathes his metaphorical zoom lens once more. As the questions progress, and Piercey circles around the same issues repeatedly, W becomes increasingly upset.

Piercey: “Whose idea was it for him to drive you home?”

W: “It was his.”

Piercey: “And are you sure of that?”

W: “Yes. He asked me if I needed a ride home.”

Piercey: “Because at the last trial with Judge Marshall I asked you the same question, on page 43 [of the transcript], and the question was: Do you recall if you said to him ‘Can you drive me home?’ or do you recall if he said to you ‘I will drive you home,’ and you said ‘I can’t recall.’”

W: “Right, that wasn’t the last trial, that was in the prelim, and I was just very overwhelmed at that time and there wasn’t a lot that I could remember.”

Piercey: “Actually it was the first trial, so it was Justice Marshall, it was in the Supreme Court.”

W: “Yes, sorry, it was the first trial, but not the second one, not the last one.”

Piercey: “And so on an earlier occasion, under sworn testimony, you told a judge and jury that you don’t remember whose idea it was to drive you home.”

W: “Correct. But it was his idea to drive me home.”

Piercey: “Okay, how come you’re able to say that now but you weren’t able to say it before?”

W: “I don’t know why, I just didn’t remember at the time!”

Without missing a beat, Piercey abruptly changes tack.

Piercey: “At some point you sued him, right?”

W: “Pardon?”

Piercey: “At some point you sued him, didn’t you? Or sorry—you got a lawyer to sue him, didn’t you?”

W: “No I did not.”

Piercey: “Did you retain a lawyer?”

W: “I got a lawyer, yes—because I had been taken in for questioning once, after I gave my original statement, and I was taken in for a second—“

At this point—having endured over an hour of relentless questions and cross-examination—W finally breaks down crying on the stand. Crown Prosecutor Strickland leapt to his feet and asked for a recess. Fifteen minutes, replied the judge. W grasped her water bottle and tissues and rushed from the room.

Throughout the ordeal, Snelgrove has sat facing her, sprawled at an angle with his head propped up on one hand.

The cross-examination resumes. W re-enters the room. Back straight, she walks to the podium and removes her face-mask. She stands, head tilted slightly, staring straight ahead, face composed. She briefly touches a tissue to her face. Then she clasps her hands together in front of her on the podium. Snelgrove also strolls back in, hands in his pockets, back straight. He sits down and leans once more in her direction.

Piercey has reverted to gentle grandfatherly mode again, at least for the moment. “I’m midway, almost halfway through,” he tells her, although it’s unclear whether that’s meant to be reassuring.

“You know where I’m going, I think,” Piercey continued. “My position is really to do with your competence to consent or whether you consented, all right?”

“Correct,” replied a monotone W.

“All right,” said Piercey. “So in terms of competence, I’m almost at the drive home. This last question about deciding to go home with the police officer, in your head you were able to figure out it was safer to get in with a police officer than a cab driver, right?”

W: “Yes.”

Piercey asked what they talked about on the drive home.

W: “I don’t know what we talked about.”

Piercey: “Okay. Would you agree that you talked as if you were sober?”

W: “No, I would agree that I was drunk and talking as if I was drunk because I would have been rambling on. In a normal circumstance I wouldn’t tell a random person all about my life.”

Piercey: “Okay, because again to go back to Judge Marshall’s trial—that’s the first trial—I’m looking at Page 48 [of the transcript], and the question was, ‘So if anyone was to testify that you were talking to him all the way home, that could be true?’ and you said ‘I guess, yeah’ and I said ‘About a multitude of topics?’—you said yes—and then I said ‘As if you were sober?’ and you said ‘Yes.’”

W: “I mean, it could have been to him, but for me personally if I’m talking that much it’s because I’m drunk.”

Piercey: “Okay that’s fine, but my point is you could have appeared as if you were sober, right?”

W: “I don’t know how I appeared.”

Piercey: “Okay, but would you agree—if necessary I can bring it up—would you agree that you told Judge Marshall’s jury that you were talking as if you were sober?”

W: “Sure.”

Things break down once more when Piercey asked her about the phone calls she made when she couldn’t get into the apartment. She’s adjusted her statement to indicate she’s no longer sure whether a friend she could have called was home or not. Piercey doesn’t like this.

Piercey: “Okay, so would you agree that you’ve told a couple of other juries that—”

W: “That she wasn’t home.”

Piercey: “But now you’re telling this jury that you don’t know that.”

W: “Right. I did say it twice, yes, but right now when I look over my statements, I know that she was out of town that second night [in January, when W called 911], and I feel like I might have had it mixed up. But, I don’t know.”

Piercey: “Okay. But would you also agree that my questions indicate that I think that that’s a point that hurts you, doesn’t it?”

W: “Pardon?”

Piercey: “You understand that I think the fact that you didn’t call [the friend] because you knew she was out of town indicates some sobriety?”

W: “Well I just don’t remember. I mean she very well might not have been at home, and I probably did know that, but I just don’t remember right now.”

Piercey: “Okay, but my point is I ask you these questions because I want to show that you’re sober, right?”

W: “Right.”

Piercey: “You realize that, don’t you?”

W: “Yes.”

Piercey: “And the first two times I asked you about [it] you told those juries ‘Yes, she was not home.’”

W: “Okay, well I’ll say it again today—she wasn’t home. But I don’t know if she was.”

Piercey: “Okay but are you saying that now because you don’t want me to bring up these points about your sobriety?”

W: “No, because I don’t know what you want me to say! I don’t remember right now!”

Piercey: “I just want you to tell the truth!”

W: “Yes, and I don’t remember right now! So I don’t know what you want me to say!” [at this point W is crying once again]

Piercey: “I just want you to tell the truth!”

W [still crying, more loudly]: “Yes, and I don’t remember right now! So I don’t know what you want me to say!”

Piercey: “Just the truth ma’am! The first two juries, you told them [she] was not home and you knew it! And you changed now!”

W: “Yes, and I’m telling you today that I don’t remember!”

Piercey: “But is the reason you don’t remember because you think it hurts your case?”

W: “No! I just don’t remember!”

W is crying throughout this ordeal.

Piercey finally breaks off from this line of questioning. He asked her about the entry into her kitchen. He implies that if she was able to crawl in the window and clamber down to the floor without doing too much damage to herself, that also indicates some degree of sobriety.

Piercey: “You had no difficulty climbing in through that little window onto that little ledge, did you?”

W: “I don’t know.”

Piercey: “You do remember getting in through the window?

W: “No.”

Piercey: “Okay, but you do remember having him in to check on you.”

W: “Yes.”

Piercey: “On page 52 of the case with Judge Marshall, I said to you: ‘Did you have any difficulty, you’re not very big so did you have any difficulty getting in through the window?’ and you said ‘No.’”

W: “No, because I wouldn’t have had any difficulty getting in through the window. I was only small and the window’s small. I said that he would have trouble getting in through the window because he’s larger than me.”

Piercey: “Right, but now you’re telling this jury that you don’t remember getting in through the window, you told the last jury two juries ago that you had no difficulty. Which is the case?”

W: “Right, because I wouldn’t have had any difficulty! I don’t remember getting in through the window! I don’t know what you want!” [W is crying once more]

Piercey: “Well why didn’t you say that before the other jury?”

W: “Because I remembered [then]! Because it’s been six years!” [this last point is almost screamed, as W chokes on her tears. Piercey doesn’t let up, but goes directly to what happened next.]

Piercey: “The sexual activity, do you remember how it started?”

W: “No.”

Piercey: “Do you remember if there was a kiss?”

W: “There was a kiss in the middle of the living room before I sat down, yes.”

Piercey: “Do you remember how the kiss came about?”

W: “No I don’t know who initiated the kiss, no.”

Piercey: “Okay, so if he says that you initiated it, you can’t disagree with that?”

W: “I can’t disagree with it because I don’t know how it happened.”

Piercey asked her some more questions about what she recalls of the positions they were in during the sexual activity. He asked her about the excerpts she does remember, including Snelgrove’s comment about missing two call-outs (“You didn’t come to because of the intercourse, you came to because he was speaking to you?”—“Right.”).

His final barrage of questions has nothing with what happened that night, but with whether she plans to sue Snelgrove.

W: “I didn’t technically hire a lawyer, there’s been nothing like that. It’s just that I had an original statement, then I was taken in for a second questioning. I was asked to go in for a third [questioning], and I said that I am not going back to the police station for a third time! [At this point W begins crying again. She catches her breath, and shakily continues.] So I contacted a sexual assault lawyer to see what I could do and what I couldn’t do. And so she contacted them then to ask if they could do it by email or something, so I didn’t have to go back again. That’s when I talked to the lawyer. When I met with her, she told me ‘Here’s your options. It’s not just this, you can sue, you can do this, you can do that.’ I told her I’m not interested in suing right now, I said I want the justice part of it. That’s all I really care about.” [W trails off in tears again.]

Piercey: “You wanted to find out if this jury is going to find him guilty, then you will sue him, right?”

W: “No, I just want this over! Before I continue on with anything that I do, I just want this part done! This is the part that I care about and this is the main one for me! I don’t want money!”

Piercey: “I asked you last time, ‘You’re awaiting the outcome of this trial?’ and you said ‘Correct, I’m waiting for the justice part then I will go ahead if I want to sue.’ So at least at that point—”

W: “If I want to! The option, my lawyer said the option is there and that’s my option if I want to do it! But this is the part that I wanted to do, and I haven’t contacted her since about suing. I told her to leave it alone for now because this is what I want, I just want justice!”

Piercey: “And if they convict, you’re going to go back and see her about suing.”

W: “No! I don’t know what I’m going to do! This has been hard enough! I don’t want to keep going!” [at this point W is crying once again]

Piercey: “Okay, but if they convict, you will consider it.”

W: “It’s a consideration, yes, because I have a lawyer and the option is there if I want it. If I don’t want to do it, I’m not going to do it! Nothing has been started with the sue. I haven’t even talked to her about it. I just don’t know! I am not suing!”

Piercey then told the judge: “Okay, those are all the questions I have.”

The judge asked Strickland whether he would like to re-examine the witness now, or after lunch. W, wiping tears from her eyes, asked them to finish it now so she can get this over with. Strickland said he has no more questions for her, and so the judge told her she is free to go.

Grasping her water bottle and tissues, head held high but face glistening with tears, W walked past Snelgrove, past Piercey, past the jurors, past the cameras, past the guards and out of the room, into the fierce waiting embrace of the women standing outside.

Witness Testimony: Staff Sergeant Tim Hogan

After lunch, there is a presentation of some agreed statements of facts. Investigators obtained a DNA sample from the cushion cover of W’s loveseat, which matched DNA of Snelgrove’s obtained from a Starbucks cup. The odds of an error were estimated at 1 in 70 quintillion.

The afternoon’s first witness is Staff Sergeant Tim Hogan. Now retired, he was put in charge of the initial investigation when the complaint against Snelgrove came in.

The veteran officer is at ease on the witness stand, and answers questions with a brevity borne of years’ experience in policing: Yes. No. Correct.

He uses his words sparingly, so when he gives an extended answer it resounds all the more loudly.

“Very early on in the RCMP I was taught when transporting a female for any purposes you call in your name, your badge number, your location and your mileage,” Hogan testified. “And you do the same when you get to your destination. It could be for transporting someone to the hospital, someone arrested for shoplifting, an impaired driver, anything. Anytime I’m transporting a female I’m calling in mileage and location and the same when I get there.”

There was no such written policy at the RNC, he explained, but most officers followed the practice. Snelgrove did not, at least on the night in question.

Hogan also said he suggested multiple times that another police force take over the investigation, because he felt police officers investigating their fellow officers was not good practice. “I said I didn’t think it was a good look. There are memorandums of understanding with other police forces, maybe we should bring someone in.”

Eventually—after multiple requests from him—this is what happened.

Next on the stand are two friends of W’s, including the one she danced with at the club. Their testimonies are brief: they don’t remember much from six years ago.

Witness Testimonies: W’s Friends

Friday’s sessions are brief: three witnesses give testimony from Ontario, under Covid lockdown.

The first witness is a friend who has a vivid memory of doing ‘liquid cocaine’ shots with W at the bar (the Crown awkwardly explained to the court this doesn’t actually involve cocaine). After shots, they did some dancing. He recalls her tripping, because she was so drunk.

The defense isn’t pleased that liquid cocaine has entered the picture. Noonan admonished the witness in a stern tone, reminding him of his oath at previous trials to tell the truth. The witness explained that he described what he remembered at those times, and added to his testimony when he remembered more. During initial questioning, he [wrongly] felt it prudent to downplay her drunkenness.

After a break, a second friend testifies. A thick Newfoundland accent, coupled with a poor audio link, is a recipe for incomprehensibility. From what we can make out, this witness is attesting to how much they drank, but it’s hard to really understand anything.

The final witness of the day is the one W called when she couldn’t get into her apartment. “She was not my closest friend, but she was my friend,” he explained with scientific detachment.

Unable to get into her apartment, she called and asked if he could pick her up and let her stay at his house for the night. He didn’t feel like it, he said; he would have to explain her drunkenness to his family. He suggested she call her landlord, or another friend. Then they got disconnected.

“I could tell at the time that she was intoxicated,” he recalled. “Her speech was choppy, her attention wasn’t always there, I had to repeat myself a couple times, I didn’t get clear exact responses. I could tell by the way the conversation was going that she wasn’t in a clear state of mind.”

This friend, who was more than an acquaintance but not the closest of friends, is the final witness for the day and the trial adjourns for the weekend.

Snelgrove’s Testimony

Content warning: this section contains graphic discussions of sexual assault that may be disturbing to some readers. A list of NL-based resources for survivors can be found at the end of this article.
Former RNC Constable Douglas Snelgrove during the trial. Photo by Rhea Rollmann.

On Monday morning, Snelgrove takes the stand. The testimony kicks off with defense attorney Piercey, who opens by asking Snelgrove a bit about himself. He was an RNC officer since 2005, suspended without pay since 2015. He talked about his regular policing duties, and tasks he performed earlier in his shift on the night in question.

His account is full of detail—extraordinarily so. He was in the Supreme Court parking lot, he said, having just dropped off a drunk man at the lock-up. He was leaning to his right in the car, about to complete the paperwork about the intoxicated man. In the distance he could see W walking up Water Street. Then, he said, she came up to his car and tried to get in. The door was locked, so he rolled down the passenger side window to chat. She told him she had no way home, her friends had left her and she was stuck downtown. She asked him to drive her home.

“Did she seem intoxicated?” asked Piercey; Snelgrove insisted she did not. He said he didn’t want to drive her home at first. He told her he had paperwork to do. He said she persisted. “I said no, no, no, but she just kept pressing me to give her a ride home.” Eventually he agreed.

They departed from the Supreme Court parking lot. He emphasized the various directions she gave, as it is important for the defense’s argument that she was or seemed sober. “She was directing me the whole time.”

Did they talk during the drive to her house, asked Piercey. Yes, said Snelgrove. His account is vivid and detailed on all points: they talked of common acquaintances, friends, jobs. He had no concern about her state of mind.

Snelgrove admitted under questioning he did not inform the communications centre that he was leaving his patrol area to drive a young woman home. He said he did not feel the need, as he did not consider it a police task.

“I didn’t want to generate a report,” he said.

W said when they arrived Snelgrove followed her behind the house from the start, but he said that he let her out, said goodbye and then settled down to complete the report he’d started downtown. Eventually—five or six minutes later—he said she returned and told him she couldn’t find her keys. He said he offered to drive her somewhere else, or to pick up keys from a friend, but she said it was late and she didn’t want to disturb anyone. At this point, he said, he joined her in the hunt for a way into the apartment.

They found the unlocked basement window (to her kitchen) and he opened it. Ever attuned to their argument that W was sober, Piercey asked Snelgrove whether she had any trouble climbing into the window.

“None,” he replied, and offers an elaborate description of her entry into the apartment. Then, he claims, he said he was leaving, but she asked him to wait. She opened the door and asked him to come inside.

Piercey: “Why did you?”

Snelgrove: “I don’t know. I can’t explain that. It’s just, she opened it, she said come in, and I just went in. For the life of me for the last seven years I’ve tried to figure out why. I don’t know.”

The remainder of Snelgrove’s account reads like the script to a pornographic film.

Snelgrove: “So we’re kissing. And W then starts to remove her shirt. She removes her bra as we’re kissing, and her pants come off and her underwear comes off.”

Piercey: “When you said they come off, how did that happen?”

Snelgrove: “She initiated the removing of her clothes. I mean I guess as she’s pulling her shirt off I may have helped pull it off but for the most part she initiated all of that. So then she tries to undo my belt to take my pants off. She has, it wasn’t difficult but we have a belt that has a kind of lock on it so you can’t just remove it. I removed the locking part of the belt but then she opened the belt and then she took down my pants and W got on her knees and then she started to perform oral sex on me.”

Piercey: “How long had you been in the house at this point?”

Snelgrove: “It wasn’t very long, only a couple of minutes.”

Piercey: “So then, she initiated oral sex, where did it go from there?”

Snelgrove: “So I’m not sure how long that continued but it wasn’t very long. But W then pulled me back, she had her hands around my waist, she was still on her knees and she was pulling me back towards her love seat. So she was kind of rocking back on her knees. She pulled me back, she got on the love seat, she sat on the love seat, so she was still sitting and leaning back. I got in front of her, I got down on my knees and we started to have… sex.” [He trails off at this point.]

Piercey: “How? What were you doing?”

Snelgrove: “What type of sex? I guess we were having vaginal sex at first. And then as we were having vaginal sex in the course of that I asked W what she liked and she said to me that she liked everything. And I asked her what she meant by everything and she looked at me and she said that she would do anything. So I asked her if she wanted to have anal sex. And she looked at me and she nodded her head and she said yes. So then we started to have anal sex. At that point in time, not very long after, I orgasmed. We kind of finished, and I got up, and I went to the bathroom and I just cleaned myself up and just kind of rearranged my uniform. I turned around, I looked at W and I said I’m just going to go. I came out of the bathroom and turned left to go towards where her door is. She followed me, she’s still completely naked at this point, she hadn’t dressed. She grabbed my arm, and she looked at me and she said ‘I don’t want you to go, can you stay?’ I just wanted to leave at that point, I just wanted to get out. I said to her at that point that no, I can’t stay. I got a call that I got to go to. Even though that wasn’t the case, I was just using that as the excuse to get out of there.”

Piercey: “How long did the sexual activity take?”

Snelgrove: “It didn’t take that long, I’m going to say ten minutes maybe.”

This concluded Snelgrove’s account. But his defense team has a few more questions.

Piercey: “Did you do anything to initiate it?”

Snelgrove: “No.”

Piercey: “Who initiated it?”

Snelgrove: “She did. She started to kiss me first. She started to remove her clothes. You know, she was naked. And then she undid my belt. She lowered my pants. She provided oral sex. I never asked for any of that.”

Piercey: “What was her state of awareness?”

Snelgrove: “She was fully aware. I had no concerns whatsoever.”

Piercey: “So you left, and relate to us what happened afterwards.”

Snelgrove: “I left. I was upset. I felt rotten. I started thinking about my wife. I’ve been married for 18 years [he starts crying]. I couldn’t believe what I had just done. I’d cheated on her, I was thinking how much this would hurt her. I was thinking about my job. I love being a police officer. I knew very well what I had done jeopardized that. I was just very, very upset at myself that I would allow myself to do that. I exited the house and I went back into the police car. I was trying to gather myself. I wasn’t in the police car for very long and I was directed to go to a call over off by Mundy Pond Road, somewhere around that area.”

Piercey: “And then back to duty?”

Snelgrove: “Yeah, I was on call at that point.”

Piercey: “Okay. Those were all the questions I have.”

Snelgrove’s Testimony: the Cross-Examination

The prosecution begins their cross-examination. Strickland observes that Snelgrove has been on street patrol since 2005, for about nine years before his suspension.

Strickland: “How many times do you think that you’ve testified in court during your career as a police officer?”

Snelgrove: “That’s a hard one to answer. I’ll say hundreds. Hundreds.”

Strickland: “So you’re experienced with this.”

Snelgrove: “I don’t think you ever get experienced with it, it’s not something I enjoy doing.”

Strickland: “I never said that. I said you’re used to testifying in court.”

Snelgrove: “Yes.”

Strickland zeroes in on how experienced Snelgrove is supposed to be at recognizing someone is drunk, hammering at that point from multiple angles. He observes that in Snelgrove’s own account, W just came up and tried to hop in his car. Didn’t that strike you as risky, rash behaviour, he asked. Not really, Snelgrove replied, it happens fairly often to officers downtown.

Strickland tries a different tack. He draws the jury’s attention to another exhibit: notes taken by Snelgrove on the night in question. Snelgrove explained that as an officer, he takes notes throughout his shift: calls he’s been on, traffic stops, anything worth noting.

Strickland reviews copies of Snelgrove’s notebook from that night. He has Snelgrove explain his entries that evening—notes on the weather, on his lunch, on the calibration state of the breathalyzer in his vehicle. Snelgrove notes the back seat of his car is clear. There are extensive notes about a disturbance at a residence on Merrymeeting Road. He seized some marijuana from a vehicle. He assisted someone at 2:08 a.m. At 2:46 he reports to the Communications Centre that he’s heading toward the lockup. At 3:00 he notifies them he’s finished dropping off the intoxicated man at the lockup.

Strickland’s point is there’s a notable gap in Snelgrove’s notes—nothing between 3:00 and 3:39. That’s when the encounter with W happened. He entirely omits the encounter from his otherwise detailed notes.

Strickland is building an argument that Snelgrove deliberately hid the fact he was transporting a young woman. Snelgrove admitted he understood the practice of informing the Comms Centre under such circumstances, and that he did not do that.

Strickland references communications logs from the night, and points out something else of interest—at 3:16am, Snelgrove received a call, in his car, from a Staff Sergeant Thorne. When speaking with Thorne, Snelgrove did not mention he had a young woman in the car and was driving her home. Strickland sums it all up: Snelgrove omitted her from his otherwise detailed notes, didn’t mention her to the Comms Centre, and withheld her presence from Sgt Thorne.

Snelgrove protested that the items in his notes refer to him being a police officer, doing police tasks. Strickland turns on him: “what are you saying, are you saying when you drove this young lady home that you weren’t a police officer? You got the uniform on, you’re in a police car! Right?”

No, Snelgrove responded, he’s not denying he was a police officer.

Strickland: “I mean there’s a reason she came to you, it’s because you were a police officer. She didn’t just try to open any random door—she tried to open your door. Right? She probably felt a greater degree of security with you, is that fair to say?”

Snelgrove: “Well, I mean, it’s hard for me to agree—“

Strickland: “Fair enough. All I’m saying is you agreed to take her home while you’re on duty, to help her, and you can’t just segregate that and say that’s not police work. That’s part of you being a police officer, isn’t it?”

Snelgrove: “I would say it wasn’t a police task, I was just agreeing to drive W home. That’s all I can say.”

Strickland: “Well I’m going to put it to you that maybe you didn’t inform Comms that she was in that car because you didn’t want anybody to know that she was in that car. That from the time you picked her up, you saw that there was potentially an opportunity here—”

Snelgrove: “No sir.”

Strickland: “—to be with this woman.”

Snelgrove: “No sir.”

The atmosphere becomes heated; Strickland’s momentum picks up pace. Now he presents some new information: Snelgrove told W that she looked pretty. Snelgrove said he was simply returning a compliment she gave to him. Strickland describes this as flirtation. Not so, said Snelgrove: “That’s just me returning the compliment that she had given me.”

Strickland goes after other points in Snelgrove’s testimony: his claim that he dropped her off and sat in his car for five or six minutes until she returned seeking his help (“How would she know you were still there?”); the fact Snelgrove implied she was an inconvenience, yet then lingered and entered her apartment. “What did you expect, that she was going to cook you a meal?” 

Snelgrove shrugs—he doesn’t know what he expected.

Strickland finishes up, but Piercey jumps in, eager for a chance to let Snelgrove clarify something. 

Piercey: “I just have one more [question]. [Strickland] asked you about birth control. Is that an issue in your life?”

Snelgrove: “Yes. [he hangs his head, looking embarrassed] It’s hard to talk about. This is personal, but I am unable to have children.”

Piercey: “Okay, thank you sir.”

Strickland [leaps back up]: “If I may?” [to Snelgrove] “She didn’t know that, did she?”

Snelgrove: “No.”

Expert Testimony: the late Dr. Peter Mullen

After lunch we are to hear an expert, provided by the defense team, who will testify regarding the effects of alcohol. Dr. Peter Mullen is the same expert who testified at both previous trials.

The problem is, the trials have stretched on for so long that the 76-year old died three months earlier.

Defense greatly misses Dr. Mullen: for them to find another expert even close to his capabilities, they assert, could delay the trial by a year or more. In the interests of time, both sides have agreed to simply re-play a recording of Dr. Mullen’s testimony from the first trial.

The gist of his argument is that having a blackout, in which one does not remember things, is not the same as becoming unconscious. It’s not possible to give consent when you’re unconscious—and any previously given consent ceases at that point—so it’s helpful to the defense to argue this was not the case. If she merely experienced a blackout, asserts Dr. Mullen, this is not the same as passing out—she could have been aware and given consent. He said this is what may have happened.

Strickland gets a go at him. The prosecutor has done his homework, and argued that some of Mullen’s references don’t actually support his argument. “So, sir, this part of your report… that’s mischievous. That [cited article] doesn’t say that,” he said. “You were very selective in the passages you put in your report. You did not put in your report those [other] particular passages from the article [that could support W].”

Strickland is an angry college professor at this point, critiquing a student for shoddy citations.

Mullen responded by citing some more recent studies, countering that there’s “a great variation” in the research data. He backed away from dueling citations, and re-stated his main thesis, which is that during a blackout one is capable of appearing conscious. His argument aims to undermine W’s position that she was too drunk to give consent.

Closing Arguments

On Wednesday we hear closing arguments from both sides, starting with the defense.

Piercey opens by reminding them the Crown needs to prove Snelgrove’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. He talks about the nature of sexual assault law, and about consent. Even if the jury thinks she did not consent, but aren’t sure that Snelgrove knew that, then they need to find him not guilty, he argued.

He draws on Dr. Mullen’s testimony to argue she was not too drunk to consent—at most merely ‘blacked out’.

He offers sixteen reasons why he thinks they should not be persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt. They largely have to do with inconsistencies in testimony, or comments he believes bolster the defense case. For instance:

“This next one is a big one. This next one is almost enough I would suggest to install a reasonable doubt. She climbs through that window. You’ve got the pictures. So if someone is so loaded that they cannot make the decision that she made to have sex, and yet climb through that little tiny window—she’s not very tall, you’ve seen her—she climbs through that little tiny window, got on the counter, climbed off the counter, and went up the stairs again, and I would suggest that that is not someone who is so incapacitated with alcohol that she wouldn’t be able to consent to sexual activity… a lot of people wouldn’t have been able to get in through that little tiny window stone cold sober! … And she said she’s so drunk she can’t remember.”

Finally, he makes a pre-emptive rebuttal against the argument he expects from the Crown, that Snelgrove abused his authority as a police officer and induced W to have sex. He acknowledges Snelgrove was in a position of authority as a police officer, but argued vehemently against the inducement idea. In fact he flipped it around on W.

“The fact is, a police officer in a police car driving her home is not inducing her to have sexual activity,” Piercey argued. “There’s not one shred of evidence from W herself that she felt induced. She conceded she may have been the one to initiate the kiss—she induced him! If that was the case, she was the one that initiated the kiss… she took her clothes off, she undid his belt, and she started performing oral sex on him. That’s his evidence, and no one contradicts that… nobody contradicts it.”

“Whether or not he induced her, that’s not the question,” Piercey concludes. “The question is ‘Are you satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt, because you still have to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt. If you aren’t you have to find him not guilty.”

Crown Prosecutor Strickland opens his closing speech on the topic of consent. He said there are three possible ways the jury could determine, beyond a reasonable doubt, that W did not consent. They may determine she was passed out—unconscious—before or during the time Snelgrove assaulted her. An unconscious person cannot consent. The law also states that if a person consents but then becomes unconscious, the consent has ended. “There must be consent to each separate sexual activity—that’s the law.”

The second way the jury could find there was no consent is if she was too intoxicated to give consent. He circles for some time around the matter of her drunkenness that night.

The third way to conclude there was no consent and that Snelgrove is guilty, he said, has to do with the matter of inducement.

“Our position is not that there was some sinister plan, but that he sets the table, in case the opportunity arises. By not letting anybody know that she’s with him. Helping her into her house, and inexplicably going inside… In some ways he’s being her knight in shining armour, right? He’s helping her out so much, but you may conclude that in reality he was using her personal feelings of confidence in him—that he’s so helpful—in hopes that it would to induce her to have sex with him in circumstances where she’s much younger and under the influence of alcohol.”

“I’m not saying there was some wild diabolical plan from the start. But he set the stage, and he was ready and willing to go if the opportunity arose. And when she let him into the house, and she was in there, I suggest that’s when the opportunity arose.”

He concludes. The judge thanked him, and asked everyone to return for 11 a.m. the next morning.

The Judge’s Instructions

Judge Vikas Khaladkar during the trial. Photo by Rhea Rollmann.

On Thursday it’s time to give final instructions to the jury, and all eyes are on Judge Khaladkar. It was judicial errors at this stage of the process that scuttled both previous trials. The pressure he feels must be immense. He reads from a prepared statement.

He explained their duties as jurors. Their role is to judge the facts; they can make common sense solutions based on the evidence they’ve been provided. It is they, not he, who decides what happens in this case.

The evidence doesn’t tell us everything, Khaladkar explained. That would be unusual—no one ever knows all of the facts. But they must decide if a crime has been committed beyond a reasonable doubt, using only evidence seen and heard in the trial.

A jury decision must be unanimous. Jurors have the right to disagree, or to not reach a unanimous decision. But they must make every reasonable effort to come to one.

Snelgrove is, of course, innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Khaladkar spends some time explaining what that phrase means. A reasonable doubt is one based on reason and common sense. It’s near impossible to prove anything with absolute certainty, and the Crown doesn’t have to. But beyond a reasonable doubt lies closer to absolute certainty than it does to probably or likely guilty.

He spends some time discussing the phenomenon of inconsistent statements, of which there have been several in this case spanning three trials. He observes that not every inconsistency is important; they must consider the nature and extent of the inconsistency, along with the explanation given, in deciding what to believe.

He takes a short break to let them digest all this. When the session resumes, he gives an overview of sexual assault law in Canada. Snelgrove’s admission that he had sex with W leaves only two questions that must be determined for him to be guilty: that W did not consent to the sex, and that Snelgrove did not honestly believe she consented to it.

Consent, Khaladkar said, involves W’s state of mind. In order to give consent—a voluntary agreement—one must be able to agree or disagree of one’s own free will, without influence of force, threats, fear, fraud, or abuse of authority. One must have knowledge of what is going to happen. Only a person with a conscious, operating mind can consent to sexual activity, the judge explained. An unconscious person cannot consent. A person who is so intoxicated that they don’t have a validly operating mind cannot consent. Consent must be actively given to each and every phase of the sexual activity.

The question is also whether Snelgrove honestly believed he had consent. The Crown must prove he did not believe he had consent. That “belief must be honest, but not unreasonable.” It must be “something a reasonable person would believe.”

Khaladkar moves to the subject of authority and inducement. This is the point on which the first trial went awry—the judge did not properly explain this, opening the door for W’s successful appeal.

What matters here, Khaladkar explained, is that no consent is given when a person in a position of authority induces consent by abusing their position. Police officers are people in a position of authority, he states. Inducement means enticing another person to take a course of action. Did Snelgrove abuse his position of authority to entice her into sexual activity? If so, any consent she might have given would be nullified.

Finally, he leaves them with some thoughts on how to deliberate. He urges them to speak and share their thoughts, but also to listen to their fellow jurors with an open mind.

“Now we can have our lottery,” he concludes. This is the point where Trial #2 fell apart, when the judge manually selected which jurors to dismiss as alternates. Instead, a literal lotto machine is brought out. A number representing each jury member is put inside the hexagonal cylinder. The judge’s clerk cranks the lotto wheel, spinning the chamber. She pulls out two numbers, and the jurors with those numbers are dismissed. The remainder are marched off by sheriff’s officers to begin their deliberations.

Jury Deliberations

On Friday, the jury deliberates. Proceedings will resume only under two circumstances: if they have questions, or if they have a verdict.

They emerge twice with questions. The first set of questions have to do with defining inducement, and abuse of authority. The judge must carefully navigate this: he cannot direct them in regards to their deliberations, but he offers explanatory comments on what the law says and means, broadly speaking.

The second question comes in around supper-time: the jury would like to know about the standard for ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. The judge reminds them it is the duty of the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Snelgrove is guilty. If they only think he is probably or likely guilty—not beyond a reasonable doubt, in other words—they must find him not guilty.

The jury files out once more, to continue their deliberations. Reporters tap at their phones, tweeting away the latest updates to the thousands who are watching and waiting for the outcome. Eventually Strickland himself strolls in to let us know the jury has retired for the night. His face is tense, tired. We pack up our laptops and head home.

The Verdict

At 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning a text message arrives from the Sheriff: “Court 9:30” is all it says.

Judge Khaladkar provides an update. Yesterday evening, he explained, the jury sent him a note saying they could not come to a unanimous decision, and requested instructions. Reporters look at each other with wide eyes: mistrial is the word on everyone’s mind.

Judge Khaladkar was not prepared to give up so easily. He told the jury to go back to their hotel rooms, get a good night’s sleep, eat a good breakfast, and then they would consider how to proceed.

He now turns to the well-rested jury.

“I see you’re having trouble,” he begins. “It’s understandable—this is a difficult decision. But you must do your utmost to arrive at a verdict.”

He has the power to discharge them if he thinks they cannot reach a unanimous conclusion, he explained. But he intends to be careful not to use this power lightly. His purpose is not to change anyone’s mind, he said, but to make sure they have thoroughly explained their reasons to each other, understood and considered each other’s views.

The process of reaching a decision by exchanging views is at the heart of our system,” he said, a hint of passion creeping into his voice. Don’t put aside your own views just for the sake of reaching a consensus, he said, but make sure you have listened to each other with open minds. He said if they truly cannot reach a unanimous verdict, it won’t reflect badly on them, so long as they’ve given it an honest try.

He reminds them they can listen to testimony over again if that would help. He offers some advice for active listening.

“Listen intently to what each person has to say. Try it. Please try.”

With this, he orders them to return to the jury room and keep trying.

The video screen turns off. Total silence descends as the reporters in the room tweet out the latest. The whole province are watching this trial; they are gripped by it; people are following it in their homes and wherever it is that they are on a Saturday morning.

Many of those present begin to mentally prepare themselves for a hung jury and a mistrial. What will happen then? Will W have the wherewithal for a fourth trial?

We continue to wait. At one point the judge peeks into the media room, leaning against the entryway and peering at us with a weary, curious smile. He casts a much different figure, shorn of his robes, thumbs locked in his suspenders.

At 3:30 p.m. a text arrives from the sheriff: “Verdict coming.”

Less than 30 minutes later we are all assembled once more. Reporters wait outside to catch Snelgrove in a wave of photos as he arrives. He cleaves his way through the mass of reporters, through the metal detectors, into the courtroom.

At 3:57 p.m. the jury enters.

The judge asked his clerk to bring the jury foreperson forward.

“Could the foreperson please stand,” she said. There is motion off-camera.

“Members of the jury, have you agreed upon your verdict?”

“We have,” replied the foreperson.

“How say you, do you find the accused guilty or not guilty of the charge?” she asked.

The room is dead silent; everyone is holding their breath.

“Guilty.”

The word drops like a bomb. Several of us drop our masks and turn to each other. “Guilty?” we mouth. Did we hear correctly?

We heard correctly. The judge’s clerk does a sound-off to verify the verdict.

“Members of the jury, say guilty if you find the accused guilty, or not guilty if you find the accused not guilty.” She lists them off, one by one.

Guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty.

The room is dead silent as we listen to this chorus, delivered one after the other.

Prosecutor Strickland broke the silence and asked that Snelgrove be placed in custody until sentencing.

Piercey counters that he’s been on bail with no issues for six years and ought to remain free.

“Does he have a passport?” asked the judge. “Does he have it here?”

Piercey turns to Snelgrove.

“I can get it,” Snelgrove said—the first and only words he utters in public that day. His voice is dry and hoarse as he says it.

“Have it brought here,” instructs the judge.

At this point reporters leap to their feet to rush next door to get photos, but I linger for a moment in the gym, watching Snelgrove on-screen on the video feed. He stands up, then doubles over. It’s hard to tell from the back, but it looks like he’s crying, wracked with full-body sobs. Then the feed is cut off.

When his passport arrives, Snelgrove signs forms pertaining to his custody—he must not leave the province; must remain in an approved place; must have no contact with W—and his passport is taken by an officer. He leaves with his defense team, who decline requests for interviews.

Strickland, however, grudgingly agrees to talk: he seems a bit shy after it’s all over. He moves stiffly, nervously, still shaking with tension as he pulls on glasses and smooths his vest for the camera. In response to reporters’ questions, he comments on the importance of the case, which he said could set national precedents in regards to consent, and breach of trust by authority figures like police.

Crown Prosecutor Lloyd Strickland speaks to reporters following the verdict. Photo by Rhea Rollmann.

But one of his comments sticks in my mind above all others. When asked how W is feeling, he said she seemed quite happy with the verdict. And then he said what I think the rest of us are all thinking:

“I’m very much in awe of her. Through it all she remained steady, she remained constant while the system stumbled around her. She was the one who remained constant.”

I wonder where she is, and what she will do, now that this ordeal which has consumed six years of her life is finally over. She has finally achieved the justice she demanded in the courtroom, but what an ordeal she endured to get it. 

Nevertheless: she did endure, and triumphed. She set her strength and courage against an immense system that groaned and strained and resisted her demands for justice, and yet she prevailed. Her victory will doubtless have an impact on helping to pave the way—legally and psychologically—for other survivors to come forward. Much of the onus will also be on us as a society, both to make sure the legal process becomes more accessible and responsive to survivors, but also to make sure that there are fewer Snelgroves to begin with. That will require that education and empathy be brought to bear on youth and future generations, so that they do not commit these crimes of power and misogyny in the first place.

That task will be up to all of us.

Here is a list of local resources for survivors of sexual assault:

Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre:
endsexualviolence.com
24-hour Support and Information Line:
1-800-726-2743

St. John’s Women’s Centre
(Supports include free counselling):
sjwomenscentre.ca
(709) 753-0220

The Journey Project
(Offers support and navigation help to those who have experienced sexual violence)
journeyproject.ca
1-833-722-2805


Newfoundland and Labrador Domestic Violence Help Line:
1-888-709-7090

Rhea Rollmann is an award-winning journalist, writer and radio producer/podcaster based in St. John’s, NL. She’s a founding editor of TheIndependent.ca, and a contributing editor with PopMatters.com. Her writing has appeared in a range of popular and academic publications, including Briarpatch, CCPA Monitor, rabble.ca, Canadian Theatre Review, Journal of Gender Studies, and more. She was the recipient of an Atlantic Journalism Gold Award in 2017, and finalist for a Canadian Association of Journalism Award in 2018. She also has a background in labour organizing, and queer and trans activism. She is presently Program Director at CHMR-FM, a community radio station in St. John’s, NL.