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‘I just need to breathe’: Nygard accuser spends emotional day challenged over testimony

The first of five accusers to testify that she was sexually assaulted by Peter Nygard wrapped up her testimony on Thursday, sobbing a number of times as defence for the Canadian fashion mogul continued to hammer away at her credibility.

Designer's lawyer zeroes in on details from night of alleged assault

An older man with white hair, wearing a black suit and white shirt, sits with his legs crossed in the back of a vehicle.

WARNING: This article contains descriptions of sexual abuse.

The first of five accusers to testify that she was sexually assaulted by Peter Nygard wrapped up her testimony on Thursday, sobbing a number of times as defence for the Canadian fashion mogul continued to hammer away at her credibility.

The woman, who spent 2½ days in the witness box, was cross-examined by Nygard's lawyer Brian Greenspan, who focused on the night of her attack.

Nygard, 82, has pleaded not guilty to five counts of sexual assault and one count of forcible confinement in alleged incidents involving five women, dating from the late 1980s to 2005.

The woman, whose identity is protected under a publication ban, had previously testified that Nygard sexually assaulted her in his private bedroom suite at his Toronto headquarters after they had attended a Rolling Stones concert in December 1989.

On Thursday, she spent much of the time trying to counter Greenspan's attempts to poke holes in her story. He challenged several elements of her previous testimony, including whether there was enough room in the suite for Nygard to chase her around the bed, whether he could have undressed her at the same time as he undressed himself, and whether she saw dozens of boxes of condoms in the bedroom suite. She often dabbed her eyes with tissues, while the judge twice had to ask if she was OK to continue.

Accuser's memory questioned

The woman had told court that at some point following the concert, she was in Nygard's car, expecting him to drive her home, when he asked if she would go into his building for a drink.

Greenspan pointed to her earlier comment that when she had been out with Nygard previously, there was never any discussion about drinks, no alcohol was consumed and Nygard never indicated that he drank alcohol.

"All of a sudden, you claim that he's inviting you in for a drink?" Greenspan asked.

"A drink is a very general term," the woman said. "It could mean a tea, it could mean a Coke, it could mean a glass of water, it could mean a juice."

"That wasn't how you interpreted it, though, was it?" Greenspan asked.

"Yeah, that's how I interpreted it," she said.

Greenspan also brought up the woman's testimony that, while she was in Nygard's car, the thought flashed across her mind that if she went with him, "he's going to rape me."

In her 1998 police statement, she said that Nygard was being playful and a bit flirtatious and that in their previous outings, he had never made any sexual advances and never attempted to kiss her.

"Yet when he's being playful in the car about 'come on up for a drink,' what comes to you mind is, 'he's going to rape me,'" Greenspan said.

"I'm a bit clairvoyant and sometimes I have flashes," she said.

"Your clairvoyance at that point didn't cause you to pause and say, 'No, thank you, take me home?'" Greenspan asked.

She said she didn't have those capacities at the time, but reiterated her previous testimony that because of Nygard's social status, with friends including then prime minister Brian Mulroney, she thought she would be safe and ignored her internal warnings.

'I'm extremely distraught now'

During a pause in the proceedings, after Greenspan asked the woman about going into Nygard's private bedroom suite, she broke into tears, prompting Superior Court Justice Robert Goldstein to ask if she needed a few moments.

"I just need to breathe," she said, taking some deep breaths before saying she could continue.

Greenspan again referred to her 1998 statement to police, nine years after the alleged assault. She told them that she tried to open the door to get out of the bedroom suite, but she didn't remember if there was a door handle or not. But in court — 34 years after the alleged assault — the woman said there was no handle.

"Your memory has improved with age, is that correct?" Greenspan asked.

"Some parts of the brain light up at certain times," she said.

The woman again became visibly upset during questioning about her contact with Nygard's security guard after the attack. While Greenspan challenged her over what she had told the guard, she began to sob.

"I'm extremely distraught right now," she said, prompting Goldstein to take a recess.

Former roommate testifies

Court also heard from a woman who had been a roommate of the accuser during the time of the alleged sexual assault. She said the complainant had told her the next morning that Nygard had sexually assaulted her.

She said she couldn't recollect if the complainant got into details about what she alleged happened, but she did remember her saying that she couldn't leave and that she felt very powerless in the situation.

The complainant had earlier told court that her roommate said she shouldn't go to police about the alleged attack because they would make her life miserable. Under cross-examination, Greenspan asked the former roommate if she had attempted to dissuade the complainant about reporting the matter to police.

"I don't recall having any conversation about that," she said.

Court also heard from the retired detective who interviewed the complainant in 1998 about the alleged assault. She said the woman told her days later that she didn't want to proceed.

The retired detective said she wanted to pursue the case, but "I could think of no other way to go forward without an [alleged] victim."

"We were limited to as what we could do," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

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