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Matthew McKnight was a popular and powerful figure in the Edmonton bar scene, known for passing out free drinks and hosting frequent after-parties. Then three young women went to the police to accuse him of rape, and others followed. His trial on 13 counts of sexual assault brought to light rumours that had been circulating for years and became the first major Canadian case of the #MeToo era. But who would the jury believe?

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Juliette, now 21, was 17 years old when she alleged Matthew McKnight assaulted her.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail

The names and identities of the women in this story are protected by a court-ordered publication ban. They are being identified with pseudonyms.


By the morning of the third day, Juliette was starting to worry. It was the middle of January, 2020, a viciously cold week in Edmonton. She’d been so sure the jury believed her, believed them. But after 26 hours of deliberation, she wasn’t as certain as she had been, and now the question hung on her like a stone: What was taking so long?

The others were waiting, too.

Among them was Nancy, alone at a house in a small Alberta town, staring silently out the window. Angie, up north, trying to concentrate on school. Sarah, at home in Edmonton with her phone in her hand, putting it aside only to shower, then scrubbing the shampoo out as quickly as she could so she wouldn’t miss the call. Juliette, the youngest of them all, was getting ready for work.

They were complainants, not victims. In the court system, you’re considered a victim of sexual assault only if the charge is proved.

It was just before noon when word came out from the jury room.

Prosecutors Mark Huyser-Wierenga and Katherine Fraser hurried through a frozen pedway from the Crown’s office to the courthouse across the street. Defence lawyer Dino Bottos, who had been distractedly trying to work on his next case, rushed from his office several blocks through the cold. Sarah, waking from a nap, jumped out of bed and raced across the city. She’d be the only one of the women in court, the others not able or not wanting to be there – not able to ask for yet another day off work, to miss another day of school, to pay for another trip to the city; not wanting to be back in that room, to be anywhere near him.

Soon, Courtroom 417 swelled with people. There were reporters and sheriffs, lawyers and students, onlookers who’d been hearing about the case in the courthouse hallways for months. There was a small group of friends and supporters of the accused. There was his mother, fumbling for tissues, tears brimming in her eyes.

Matthew McKnight had recently turned 33. He was tall and fit, with dark brown hair and dark eyes, and was neatly dressed in a thin-cut suit, as he had been throughout the trial. He looked tense as he stepped back into the wooden prisoner’s box where, four months earlier, he’d listened to the charges being read against him: 13 counts of sexual assault against 13 women. He’d answered “not guilty” 13 times.

The courtroom was silent and heavy with the questions everyone in that room – and many others far beyond it – had been considering for months.

Would an innocent man really be accused of 13 sexual assaults?

And could a guilty man face so many charges and still walk free?

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Telling the police about McKnight's assault was an unsettling experience for Juliette, but she felt it was important that she say something.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail

APRIL, 2016

“Okay, go ahead and have a seat here,” Detective Dave Pelech said, motioning toward the couch in the Edmonton Police Service interview room. “Do you need anything before we get started?”

“Um, no,” Juliette said. “I don’t think so.”

The 17-year-old was nervous and scared, even with her older sister beside her for support. She’d known right away that what had happened was wrong – she was crying after she left his bedroom, and she told her friends almost immediately – but she hadn’t planned to do anything more.

Except then she heard that he might have a disease and that he’d done the same thing before. Her sister texted some people in the bar scene and right away the stories started to come back. Three women who said he’d sexually assaulted them. Then a friend and a friend’s friend. Another who said she was locked in his bathroom but got away.

None of them wanted to go to the police. One said she’d come forward anonymously to back up Juliette, but she had school and cheerleading, and she couldn’t deal with any more than that. Juliette didn’t really want to open it all up either, but she felt like she had to do something. He couldn’t just keep hurting girls like that.

So, Juliette told the detective how she and her friends snuck into Knoxville’s, then went to an after-party at this guy’s place nearby. She said he was old – well, 28, not old but older – and that she tried to be polite, but he wouldn’t take her hints. She said maybe she should have done something different, or would have, but it was hard to tell a guy you didn’t like him. And it was scary, too. He was so much bigger and stronger than her.

She remembered him saying, “Don’t keep running away from me,” and how he kissed her, hard. How he kept grabbing at the bottom of her T-shirt dress and how she was going to leave, but –

The detective’s cellphone rang, and he answered it. “Okay, it’ll be just a few minutes,” he assured the caller.

It was April 5, 2016. A month earlier, CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi had been found not guilty of four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking after the judge deemed the evidence of the three women accusing him to be untruthful, inconsistent or untrustworthy.

Juliette had never even heard of Ghomeshi. She was a teenager, focused on her friends and school, largely unaware of the broader social movement brewing around her. It hadn’t occurred to her that people wouldn’t believe a woman who said she’d been sexually assaulted.

Instead, she thought it would be like on TV: She’d tell the police what happened, they’d do their investigation and the man who assaulted her would go prison.

When she looked back later, she would realize how innocent she’d been.

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Knoxville's, shown in March, is now closed. McKnight used to work as a promoter there.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail


He stood out, even in the crowds, even in the dark and flashing lights. He liked people to look at him, and he wore attention-grabbing outfits: T-shirts with graphic images of women – one cross-legged and naked, another with a piece of duct tape across her mouth. He had a collection of wacky hats and costume props and was shirtless at every opportunity. Sometimes he’d be at the bar dressed only in briefs. One night, he wore a kilt with no shirt, and on another, tight white shorts and a fur hood with animal ears.

He particularly liked onesies. He had many, among them Tweety and Superman and Winnie the Pooh, one covered in yellow rubber duckies, another printed with crimson kisses. Eeyore, the sad and gentle donkey, worn unzipped to show the muscled chest of the man inside.

He worked for a company that owned bars around the city, but you could most often find him at Knoxville’s, a wild country-themed club where patrons passed a sign declaring it “the bar your mother warned you about” to dance and drink and maybe straddle a large mechanical moustache. He could be charming and flirtatious, offering a rose, a compliment, attention. He was known for providing generous rounds of free drinks – vodka cranberries and Fireball shooters – to revellers, friends and especially to petite and attractive young women.

He played host to parties nearly every weekend, his condo a stumbling distance through the alley, his bedroom just a few more steps from there. He took a lot of women down that hallway. His friends would later testify the women never looked drunk or drugged. They said the women always looked fine as they walked to his bedroom door.

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Matthew McKnight's promotion methods included wearing attention-grabbing costumes like his onesies, shown at left in an evidence photo from the trial, and themed outfits like the Christmas elf shown at right, captured in a 2013 promotional photo from the bar.

JULY, 2016

Angie woke in a panic. She had no idea where she was, only that she was naked in a strange bed, sick and scared. Next to her was a man she didn’t know, and when he opened his eyes and moved toward her, she didn’t fight. She understood very well the threats women face. All she wanted to do was get out alive.

When it was over, she gathered her clothes from around the apartment, slipping a business card into her pocket. It said “Matt McKnight, Director of Sales & Marketing & Partner with UrbanSparq.”

She let him drive her home, not wanting to walk in the outfit she’d worn to the bar.

Later, she examined the bruises on her thighs and neck. She remembered being at a bar called the Rack with friends, but after that, nothing – an impenetrable void in her memory stretching eight hours or more. She’d blacked out from drinking before, but this was different.

When she told a guy she’d been seeing about that night – and about what had happened in the bed that morning – he said she should go to the police.

The report Angie filed in July, 2016, was the second Edmonton police had received about McKnight that year, although he’d been on their radar well before that. Women had initiated sexual-assault complaints against him on at least three separate occasions, and although those women ultimately decided not to proceed, records of those complaints were still in the system.

A third young woman, Nancy, had also contacted the police that spring, filing a report with the RCMP in central Alberta less than two weeks after Juliette met with Det. Pelech in Edmonton.

Nancy was 22 and had travelled into the city to spend the night with friends. She remembered the start of the night, but there were long gaps in her memory after that. She remembered Fireball shots and, later, being in a bed and saying “no, please no.” She remembered how much it hurt and how mad he got when she scratched him. After that, she stopped fighting and just got through it the best she could.

The next morning, he put her in a car and kissed her on the forehead like nothing bad had happened.

She went alone to the hospital two days later, her body exposed and swabbed and studied, the bruises photographed, the cuts measured. She was almost hysterical when she gave her statement to a female RCMP officer.

She didn’t hear anything until Det. Pelech called and drove out to meet her. He said there were two other women accusing McKnight of sexual assault. When he asked if Nancy was willing to proceed with charges, she said yes.

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Nancy filed a report with RCMP in April, 2016, and was later contacted by Edmonton police investigating the case.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail

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Matthew McKnight's 2016 mug shot.Police handout


News of McKnight’s arrest spread quickly, making public allegations that had been an open secret in the Edmonton bar scene, passed in whispers and quiet warnings: “That guy is dangerous.”

A mugshot released by police on Aug. 10, 2016, showed him clean-shaven, with short-cropped hair, a dress shirt unbuttoned at the throat. Police asked anyone with information – or who may have been assaulted themselves – to come forward.

Women who had tried hard to forget McKnight saw his face appear in their Facebook feeds, on newscasts, in texts from friends and family.

One woman thought about waking in McKnight’s shower in 2010, sick and scared. She hadn’t called the police afterward and still didn’t want to, but it seemed important for them to know how long it had been going on. “I’m only doing this because I keep hearing about this,” she told the police operator. “I feel stupid.”

A woman in another province saw the news on Facebook. She’d always thought it was better to pretend it never happened, but now she wasn’t so sure. It was different when you thought it was only you.

Juliette posted the news on her Facebook page, without explanation. Most people in her life had no idea what happened and she didn’t want to tell them. She just wanted as many women as possible to see it.

On the news that fall, a tape of presidential contender Donald Trump talking to a TV host played over and over. “You can do anything,” he said. “Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

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Mark Huyser-Wierenga and Katherine Fraser were the Crown prosecutors assigned to the McKnight case.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail


The years that passed between McKnight being charged in 2016 and his trial in the fall of 2019 followed the arc of the broader #MeToo movement. Stories of sexual assault and harassment became a fixture in the media, an evolving story of women collectively raising their voices against powerful men, with varying results.

While names such as Kavanaugh, Cosby and Weinstein dominated international headlines, cases played out more quietly in other industries, companies and communities. In Canada, there was the artistic director of a Toronto theatre, a respected winemaker, a pop star and others.

But while the movement proved to be a powerful social tool, in many cases the allegations didn’t translate into any kind of criminal sanction. The case against McKnight would be Canada’s first significant legal reckoning of the issues and questions playing out more broadly in other places.

At its peak, the case comprised 26 charges of sexual and physical assault against 21 women. But as it wound its way to court, some of the women decided they didn’t want to proceed, and the Crown or court opted not to proceed on others. One woman couldn’t be located, and two cases would be heard separately. Of 26 charges, McKnight would go to trial on 13.

The case would be prosecuted by one of the city’s most senior Crown prosecutors, Huyser-Wierenga, and Fraser, a young lawyer with an interest in sexual-assault prosecutions.

Although Huyser-Wierenga was an experienced lawyer, the McKnight trial would be one of the largest and most complex of his career. He also faced a personal challenge: the degenerative eye condition he’d lived with most of his life had escalated suddenly and quickly in the preceding years, rendering him blind. Unable to read, he would have to rely on his memory and work in close collaboration with Fraser and his legal assistant to organize and present the sprawling case.

Representing McKnight was Bottos, a prominent defence lawyer who’d been involved in a number of controversial and high-profile cases, including representing Bradley Barton in the death of Cindy Gladue in 2011. The not-guilty verdict in that case sparked protests around the country and was ultimately overturned at the Supreme Court of Canada, slated for retrial in 2021.

Bottos had walked through protesters more than once on his way to court, and he sometimes said those times made him proudest to be a defence lawyer. He said he believed everyone should, at their worst moments, have someone at their side.

Except for a three-week holiday and time spent on his other cases, Bottos had been working seven days a week for eight months to prepare for the McKnight trial, going over and over the women’s statements to police and at the preliminary hearing until he knew them almost word for word. McKnight also played an active role in his own defence, putting in countless hours of research and sorting through hundreds of photos and documents, gathering his own evidence about the nights in question.

Huyser-Wierenga and Fraser were also working intensely to prepare for trial. Around the country, there had been broader discussions about how to better handle sexual-assault allegations, and some of those initiatives were showing success. But while courts and police were moving slowly to a more “victim-centred approach,” the legal process could still be devastating. Huyser-Wierenga and Fraser spent time trying to build trust with the women and prepare them for what it would be like to testify and undergo cross-examination. They met with each woman multiple times, even bringing them into the courtroom so they’d know what to expect when they got there.

Huyser-Wierenga was 58, Bottos, 57. Each had run hundreds of trials in their long careers, and they were staunch and worthy adversaries. Bottos’s first jury trial as a young lawyer had been against Huyser-Wierenga, and they had faced each other in four others since. But the scope of this case was unique.

It was unusual to have so many serious and separate charges heard at once, but because the allegations were so similar, the Crown argued to have them tried together. Bottos, knowing how the sheer number of charges would look to a jury, had argued for each allegation to be tried separately. He felt confident that, tried one by one, McKnight would be found not guilty in every case.

Running 13 trials at once would be a challenge for both sides.

In addition to the sheer volume of information, the cases themselves were problematic. Most of the women had been drinking and their memories were poor. Sometimes, they had no memory at all. Several of the women said they believed they had been drugged, but there was no forensic evidence to prove it. By the time the cases went to trial, some of the allegations were nearly a decade old.

There was also no dispute the women and McKnight had engaged in sexual activity; the only question was whether it was consensual or whether McKnight could have reasonably believed it was. As in most sexual-assault cases, it would largely boil down to one person’s story against the other, what is commonly referred to as “he said, she said.” Or, in this case, “he said, they said.”

The Crown’s case against McKnight would rest largely on the testimonies of 12 women, one of whom would testify about her own experience and what she witnessed happen to a friend.

If the allegations were true, McKnight was a predator who had been sexually assaulting vulnerable women for years while they were seriously incapacitated by alcohol or a drug or both.

But to convict him, the Crown would have to prove that to 12 jurors in every case, beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Nancy had some difficult years between McKnight's charges and his trial.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail


On the morning of her testimony, Nancy dressed in a simple black dress and heels and faced herself in the mirror.

“Today is the day,” she told herself. “What is said here is going to make or break everything. And if he’s found not guilty, it’s going to make it all not worth it.”

The road to trial isn’t easy, and it’s far slower than many expect. It took more than a year for the charges against McKnight to get to a preliminary hearing, and more than two years after that to get to trial. The wait can feel interminable, suspending victims, witnesses and the accused in limbo, while the spectre of the trial looms over everything.

Those years had been the most difficult of Nancy’s life. She attempted suicide twice, drank too much at times, lost jobs and relationships. She became distrustful and afraid of people, especially men, and avoided them at work and on the street. Sometimes, when the doorbell rang, she hid in the closet with her dog.

It was the beginning of November, a month into the trial. The 25-year-old took her place alone in the witness box and looked out at the courtroom. There were the lawyers at their tables, the judge and court staff, reporters and spectators watching from the body of the courtroom. Her mother, aunt and boyfriend were there. McKnight sat beside his lawyer, studiously tapping notes on his laptop. Twelve jurors stared from the jury box.

“What brings you to court today?” Huyser-Wierenga asked.

It was the question that began each complainant’s testimony. Nancy took a deep breath. Her answer echoed those who had appeared before her and those who would come after.

“I was locked up and raped by Matthew McKnight.”

The women’s testimony stretched over eight straight weeks. Each story was different, but there were common threads woven between them.

All the women were young when it happened. Juliette was the youngest, at 17, Nancy the oldest at 22. Most were 18 or 19, petite and slender, sometimes less than 100 pounds, with a resemblance close enough to notice when they passed each other in the courthouse halls. Some came from the country or outlying communities and weren’t used to the city. All were new to the bar scene.

In every case, McKnight was older, more prominent, more powerful in every way.

The women testified about meeting him at the bar. How he flirted and sometimes they flirted back. They accepted a drink or drinks. Maybe they danced. Maybe they liked him.

All but two of the assaults were alleged to have happened in his downtown Edmonton condo, usually at after-parties. The women testified about walking through the alley, taking the elevator to Suite 405. Sometimes he was already wearing a onesie, or maybe he put one on at the apartment or asked them if they wanted to.

They recalled long blackouts, sometimes waking paralyzed, unable to walk or even move, unable to find their voice to speak or call for help, even as others partied outside the door.

The women didn’t know each other and had no connection to McKnight or any apparent reason to make up accusations about him. Many immediately told friends, family or boyfriends, and some searched for information about date-rape drugs, called the police or initiated sexual-assault examinations in the hours and days after leaving his apartment, even if they ultimately decided not to proceed.

“Matt told me it was my fault. I was just so ashamed,” one woman testified. She had gone to his after-party from work and had taken only a few sips of the drink he gave her before she got sick, then blacked out and awoke in his bed. “I felt like I must have done something wrong.”

“I didn’t think I was important. I didn’t think people would believe me,” another woman said. She’d been 19 at the time. “Then these other women came forward, and I thought, ‘How many more would and could there be if I don’t add my voice?' And I wanted to protect those women. I felt those women were more significant than me.”

Cross-examination in a sexual-assault case can be brutal, but Bottos said he believed it was both necessary and justified. Wasn’t a bad day or two reasonable when testing allegations that could send someone to prison for years?

“If you’re going to allege something against somebody and change their lives, you have to stand up and face questioning before we let that happen,” he said, during an interview mid-trial. “I can’t think of any other way of doing it.”

His goal was to have his client found not guilty of all 13 charges, and the only way to do that was to cast doubt on each allegation, one by one.

Staring at the women over the tops of his eyeglasses, Bottos went over and over how many drinks they had, what they said or didn’t say in earlier statements, questioning every detail they recalled and didn’t.

He asked them about their lives, their bodies, even whether it was possible they showed signs of arousal that McKnight could have construed as consent. He zeroed in on gaps in their memories and inconsistencies in their stories, pulling at each detail and thread, picking at small holes until they gaped and glared. Some of the cross-examinations stretched over days, so intense that even observers in the courtroom had nightmares.

At times, the women cried and shook or lashed out in anger. In some cases, they became so distraught they were unable to speak, and Justice Doreen Sulyma had to break for them to compose themselves.

Some ran from the room in tears and could be heard sobbing in the Crown’s witness room.

Meanwhile, school groups filed in and out, teenagers and young adults filling the benches to learn about the court system and see it in action.

“Have you ever been sexually assaulted? Have you?” Sarah asked Bottos during one exchange, her voice rising to fill the courtroom.

“I get to ask the questions, ma’am,” he replied.

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Defence lawyer Dino Bottos defends his tough cross-examination of the women at the trial. 'If you’re going to allege something against somebody and change their lives, you have to stand up and face questioning before we let that happen.'Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail


On Nov. 25, 2019, McKnight took his place in the witness box.

The Crown’s case had run for eight weeks, and included testimony from sexual-assault nurses and friends of the women, some of whom said they believed that they, too, had been drugged in McKnight’s apartment. RCMP toxicologist Gillian Sayer testified about the effects of the drug GHB, including physical impairment, blackouts and memory loss. The drug is colourless, odourless and has only a faint taste, and it is rapidly eliminated from the body, meaning it’s often untraceable, even within hours. While it’s sometimes taken recreationally, Sayer said its qualities make it better known as a “date-rape drug.”

Where the women had large gaps in their memories, McKnight’s recollections of the nights in question were perfect – too perfect, the Crown would argue. He estimated he’d had sex with between 200 and 300 women in the six-year span of the charges, yet he retained an exacting recollection of each encounter. He remembered exactly how they met, how much each woman had to drink, what she drank, when and where he touched her, exactly what was said.

He recalled the sound of a new bottle cracking open, the “light hand massage” he said he gave one woman.

The nights were, in many ways, the same as the women described them. But in his version, no one was crying. Nobody ran out of his apartment into the freezing winter night without their boots on or passed out on the floor of his bathroom in their own vomit and menstrual blood.

Where the women had choked out their stories, weeping as they described their fear, panic and violation, McKnight’s accounts of the same nights were coolly narrated stories of attraction, flirtation and seduction.

Where she said: “I didn’t know if I was going to die. I was not in control of my body,” he said, “I got the vibe that we liked each other.”

Where she said: “I remember him trying to roll me around because I couldn’t move. I couldn’t find my voice,” he said, “I felt we had chemistry.”

Where she said: “I had no control over anything. I wasn’t able to function,” he said, “She definitely knew and enjoyed what was happening at the time.”

He admitted he was shallow and hedonistic – a “male slut,” even – but maintained it was never more than that.

McKnight testified for eight days, his accounts detailed and unchanging, his emotions rising only under heavy questioning by the Crown.

“The women are mistaken or lying,” he said. “I did not sexually assault any of these women.”

He said he’d never used GHB himself and swore he never drugged anyone.

Backing up McKnight’s claims were several of his friends, who between them also vividly recalled each night and each woman, confirming key details in his testimony. Some testified they’d even walked into the bedroom by accident and that what they saw appeared consensual.

McKnight’s former roommate Kyle Anderson – owner of Privilege Parties, Privilege Productions and Privilege Modeling – recalled several of the women, saying they seemed to be enjoying his friend’s company, including making “sounds of a sexual nature” in the bedroom next door.

In cross-examination, he defended a series of vulgar and derogatory statements he’d tweeted about women, including one that said: “There’s no such thing as rape. ... Just ‘Surprise Sex.‘ ”

“Comedy is purely subjective,” he told the court. “I don’t see the relevance of this or how it pertains to my testimony or my memory.”

A female bartender at Knoxville’s, who sometimes slept at McKnight’s condo after work, said the women she saw going in and out of his bedroom were always “overly happy, if anything.” She speculated the allegations came from “husbands and boyfriends putting them up to it.”

“I myself am a victim of sexual assault,” she said. “So I take this seriously.”

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The trial had gone a month longer than planned by the time Huyser-Wierenga, Fraser and Bottos delivered their closing arguments.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail


By the time closing arguments began in January, the McKnight trial had gone more than a month longer than planned, and the jury was down to 10. Losing another juror could put the case in serious jeopardy and even cause a mistrial.

With 63 days of testimony about 13 separate assaults, 21 witnesses for the Crown and 16 for the defence, the details were complicated, but the arguments were simple.

Prosecutors Huyser-Wierenga and Fraser urged the jury to believe the women. Any inconsistencies or lapses in memory, they said, were entirely consistent with people who had experienced trauma and who were drinking and, in some cases, drugged. They argued the detailed and impeccable recollections of McKnight and his friends were not believable and were fabricated around the women’s testimony at the preliminary hearing.

“I suggest he has carefully memorized his script of these 12 incidents,” Fraser told the jury in the Crown’s two-day closing argument. “Every detail is remembered by McKnight.”

In a closing that spanned four days, Bottos went again through each allegation in minute detail.

He argued a woman who had been telling people in the bar scene that McKnight drugged and raped women had become “patient zero” in a dangerous rumour, which exploded in the #MeToo environment, fuelled by gossip, social-media mobs and a shoddy police investigation. He said the announcement of the first three charges established McKnight as a threat and that the women who came forward after that were either lying or recasting their experiences, having “buyer’s remorse” about an encounter with a man now publicly accused of being a predator.

“It’s hard to say, ‘I was his lover,’ ” Bottos told the jury. “It’s easier to say, ‘I was his victim.’ ”

With one of the remaining jurors due at a family funeral, court sat through the weekend, and Justice Sulyma delivered her 88-page charge to the jury late into a cold winter night.

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Jurors' seats at the Eldon D. Foote Moot courtroom in Edmonton.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail


How does a jury decide who and what to believe?

Courts in Canada have long identified myths and stereotypes around sexual assault, and factors such as how someone was dressed and what they did or didn’t do after the assault are no longer acceptable ways to discredit someone. It is to be accepted that there’s no one way a “real victim” would act.

But while defence lawyers can no longer cross-examine on these myths, and judges and juries aren’t supposed to consider them, long-standing misconceptions, biases and judgments aren’t always easy to identify, let alone overcome.

The presumption of innocence is one of the cornerstones of the justice system, and to convict, each juror must be convinced of guilt in each charge. There’s a saying that standards are high to convict the guilty as a safeguard against convicting the innocent.

On the morning of the third day, the five men and five women considering the McKnight case filed grimly back into the jury box.

“Have you arrived at a verdict?” the clerk asked.

The foreman stood.

“We have,” he said.

Juliette was at her boyfriend’s house getting ready for work when she got a text from her sister, who was following reporters live-tweeting from inside the courtroom.

“GUILTY ON 5 counts. You did it,” Juliette’s sister wrote, adding a string of emoji faces. Some were weeping, others surrounded by hearts. “He was found guilty on yours.”

The jury had found McKnight guilty of five charges and not guilty of eight.

Juliette walked to her shift at the coffee shop processing it all. She was in a mall pedway when Huyser-Wierenga called. Her sister was mistaken – McKnight had been found not guilty in her case.

“How could this happen?” Juliette asked. Soon she was sobbing into the phone. She thought the jury had understood and saw she was doing her best. Why would anyone put themselves through that if it wasn’t true?

“What is the point?” she cried. “What have I been fighting for?”

Nancy was walking through her living room with a cup of coffee when her phone rang. When Huyser-Wierenga said McKnight had been convicted of sexually assaulting her, she fell to the floor, the cup clattering down, glass smashing and coffee spilling all around.

Sarah, the only one of the women in the courtroom for the verdicts, left in tears. He’d been found not guilty of assaulting her, too.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” she said, her hand trembling as she pushed the button for the elevator.

Angie learned about her case by text. Not guilty.

“What do you think it was?” she asked. “Was it something about me?”

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Juliette shows a text exchange with her sister after the verdicts.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail


On July 8, McKnight will be back in court to be sentenced on five counts of sexual assault. It will be nearly four years since he was charged. He’s been out on bail since his initial release, living in the same condo. Down the alley, the bar that had been Knoxville’s is boarded up and closed.

Sentences for a major sexual assault start at about three years in prison and can increase if the judge finds aggravating factors, such as drugging. The sentencing hearing is slated to last three days.

Bottos, Huyser-Wierenga and Fraser all say they’ve been unable to make sense of the verdicts or discern any pattern among the convictions. There are no clear divisions in background, behaviour or circumstance. In Canada, jury deliberations are secret and remain so forever. How and why the jury arrived at each verdict will never be known.

At the sentencing, the five women deemed by the jury to be victims of McKnight can read their victim impact statements. The other eight women have no standing at the hearing, but can observe like any member of the public.

Nancy has been thinking for a long time about what she’ll say. She worries about how she could possibly explain it all. She’s tried many times to write it down, but the paper always ends up drenched in tears.

“I want to look him in the eyes,” she says. “I want him to know how this has changed my life.”

Even though she won’t have a chance to speak, Juliette wants to see him, too. She says she wants to show him that he didn’t win, that no matter what, their voices counted for something. That they stopped him, all of them together.

She’s trying to think about what else she can do after that. Ways she could change things to make it better for other women like her, for women like all of them.

Then, maybe, it will feel like justice.

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Illustration by Jason Lin

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