Local Journalism Initiative
A man accused of assaulting an underage female in 2016 and unlawfully marrying a child was found guilty July 15 on four counts laid against him.
Michel Frank Bouvier, was found guilty on two counts of sexual assault, assault causing bodily harm, and assault.
Bouvier was found not guilty of marrying a child, something the victim said during her testimony consisted of an indigenous pipe ceremony after which she believed Bouvier was her husband.
He was initially charged with eight criminal offences, including two counts of sexual assault, two counts of assault, aggravated assault and two counts of uttering death threats.
In rendering his decision in Hinton’s provincial court, Judge R. Shaigec stated that he did not believe multiple accounts of Bouvier’s testimony, resulting in the guilty verdicts. He further explained his rationale for the non guilty verdict for the marrying a child charge.
In light of eradicating practices such as marital rites and ceremonies with individuals under the age of 16, the events needed to be determined objectively, he stated.
The question he posed was if the ritual or event was a genuine cultural practice that was actually intended to result in the marriage of a child. He believed this event paved the way for months of assault and sexual assault but with the absence of evidence on this point, he had a reasonable doubt whether the events described by the victim, which he believed to be true, actually constituted a genuine customary indigenous marriage rite or ceremony intended in the two being married.
Bouvier continuously interrupted while Judge Shaigec explained his reasoning before finding him not guilty of marrying a child.
Bouvier was scheduled to appear in person for the verdict, but a COVID-19 outbreak at the Edmonton remand centre forced a change in plans and he instead appeared via closed circuit TV.
He mumbled and talked over the judge as the verdict was read out in Court of Queen’s Bench in Hinton.
Testimony during the trial, which began in February, outlined how Bouvier was 54 while the complainant was a teenager at the time the crimes occurred between Oct. 1, 2016 and May 9, 2017.
The now-19-year-old woman from a small town between Edmonton and Red Deer, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, met Bouvier when she was 15 years old at an indigenous craft market in Edmonton. At the time she felt she needed help spiritually and emotionally, she explained during her examination in court.
Bouvier was a medicine man, which can be described as a traditional healer and spiritual leader who serves a community of indigenous people, and offered to help the complainant.
The woman went on to testify during the trial that Bouvier had brainwashed her into believing she could trust him and love him.
Their relationship quickly moved from mentorship to being intimate with each other.
Bouvier first kissed her while they both stayed at her relative’s house and he told her not to tell anyone, according to her testimony.
In Bouvier’s testimony, he claimed the 15 year-old walked into his room that night wearing nothing but a robe and underwear attempting to seduce him.
The judge stated in his reasoning that he did not believe Bouvier’s account of this incident to be the truth.
Bouvier and the teenager began engaging in sexual intercourse regularly and Bouvier asked her to be his partner while knowing that she was only 15 years-old, she said.
The judge noted the two had sex mutliple times and accepted the victim’s best estimate of around 30 times while she was 15. These occurred in absence of consent and proves Bouvier committed the offence of sexual assault, the judge said. During the time, she didn’t know what the age of consent to sexual activity was and felt like a daredevil, she said.
At one point in her testimony, she described when Bouvier first became aggressive after being away too long with male friends. That same night, he threatened her with a curse and told her horrible things would happen to her.
According to her testimony, Bouvier then asked her to come with him to Hinton where they stayed with friends in October 2016. Her family first reported her missing on Oct. 13, 2016, and an amber alert was sent out.
When police found her in North Edmonton after Bouvier dropped her off, she lied about her whereabouts, testifying she had been instructed to do so by Bouvier.
She eventually told police she was with Bouvier and that he was helping her spiritually, she said. Soon after she ran away to Hinton again, Bouvier told her she could not look other men in the eyes and accused her of being intimate with the friend they stayed with.
After returning from participating in Halloween activities against Bouvier’s wishes, things escalated quickly. He questioned her about being with their male friend and accused her of lying.
After throwing her candy across the room he physically assaulted her to the point where her teeth fell out. She later lied to the dentist and said she slipped on ice and hit her face on concrete.
For this reason, Bouvier was found guilty of assault causing bodily harm.
The complainant testified that Halloween was the beginning of a torturous relationship, including spiritual abuse where she was made to stay up late to beat off the devil from her sleep, and also physical abuse.
The following day, the victim said a marital ceremony took place at that same friend’s house in Hinton and photos of the ceremony were soon deleted by Bouvier, because he did not want any evidence.
She claimed that Bouvier hit her regularly and she would count how many days she didn’t get hit.
Bouvier introduced her to his family using a fake name and claimed she was older than reality, she said. Believing he would change, the woman said Bouvier began forcing her to have sex with him when she didn’t want to.
With another missing persons alert out while they were staying with family in Saskatchewan, Bouvier put her on a bus headed for Edmonton. Police pulled over the Greyhound bus just outside of Vegreville on March 23, 2017, after receiving info from various people, and took her to the police station.
After being interviewed she was taken home to her grandfather, but she continued texting Bouvier.
She testified she was still brainwashed and believed Bouvier was a good person. She agreed to run away to meet him again.
Police then located her at a home near Rocky Mountain House on April 11, 2017, and she was brought back to the police station again.
Court documents show that Project KARE Unit, an RCMP unit that investigates and reviews files of missing vulnerable persons throughout Alberta, became involved due to high-risk behaviour and frequent missing persons reports.
As of April 18, 2017, documents state that members of Project KARE were suspicious of Michel Bouvier and thought that he might be sexually exploiting her.
She made no criminal allegations and the focus of any interviews at the time was on “gathering information and stabilizing her in the community.”
She returned to her relative’s house and said it was nice being back with family but was paranoid about Bouvier.
“It was disgusting, I didn’t think much of the abuse but thought, he’s my husband, I need to go back,” she testified.
It was during the final trip back to Hinton when he took her to the ceremonial grounds outside of Hinton where they stayed in an abandoned trailer as Bouvier taught her about ‘culture’. The police arrived on May 9, 2017 and arrested Bouvier on unrelated matters.
Bouvier was taken into custody, and the teenager was placed “in care,” according to legal documents. Children’s Services was also involved due to the number of times she disappeared and returned, and she claimed they wanted to put her under protection.
At the time, she believed she was just going to Bouvier for help. She now claims she didn’t realize Bouvier brainwashed her.
At 17 years old, she contacted the police and alleged that Bouvier had committed serious crimes against her during a seven-month period two years prior.
During those seven months, the police took witness statements from various people as part of five separate missing persons files aimed at trying to find her and keep her safe. Those witness statements focused on finding her but had all been lost in the meantime. The judge dismissed an application for a stay of proceedings in regards to these missing statements.
Court documents say that each time police found her throughout 2016 and 2017, she denied that Bouvier had engaged in any criminal wrongdoing.
Bouvier denied all allegations, saying after meeting the victim in the summer of 2016 he did not see her again until police found the two together in May of 2017.
A psychological assessment of Bouvier was ordered at the Alberta Hospital in support of a dangerous or long term offender application within the next 60 days.
This matter returns to court on Oct. 21, 2020 to be spoken to as a docket matter. While a dangerous offender hearing was spoken to in court following the verdict, the Crown has yet to make an application for a dangerous offender hearing.
In October, a possible Crown application can be scheduled and sentencing dates.
Bouvier went through a dangerous offender hearing in 2011 after he was found guilty of assault with a weapon in Saskatchewan, but was instead declared a long-term offender and put under a 10-year supervision order. The Hinton Voice apologizes for these errors.
* This version of the article has been edited to include corrections made since print publication. The Hinton Voice apologizes for previous errors.*