The young woman walked to a podium in the hushed Edmonton courtroom, and turned to face Matthew McKnight where he sat in the wooden prisoner’s box.
“For years I have been terrified of you. You haunted my dreams and dictated my waking moments,” she told him. “Now I realize that my voice is what you should have been afraid of all along.”
Mr. McKnight, a 33-year-old former bar promoter and a well-known figure in the Edmonton bar scene, was convicted by a jury in January of sexually assaulting five women, and found not guilty of sexually assaulting eight others.
The woman who spoke on Wednesday morning was the first of the victims to address Mr. McKnight in court, during sentencing proceedings expected to last three days. Her identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban.
The Crown is seeking 22½ years in prison. The defence has not yet presented its position on sentence.
In addition to statements from two of the victims, court also heard Wednesday from three of their relatives, and from the sister of another victim, all of whom spoke about the broad and devastating effects of the sexual assaults committed by Mr. McKnight.
“I’m not certain you’re sorry for what you did. I think you’re sorry you got caught,” said one woman, who is not being identified to protect the identity of her sister. She described the effects of the assault as being like “a toxic burn.”
“I would never wish this pain on anyone,” she told Mr. McKnight. “Even you.”
In the spectator area of the courtroom sat at least two dozen people, mostly women, including some of those Mr. McKnight was found not guilty of assaulting. With physical distancing in place, the proceedings were held in a vast but rarely used basement courtroom, which was originally built for a high-profile gang trial and can accommodate 40 accused and dozens more lawyers, translators and observers.
Mr. McKnight’s mother and a small group of supporters were seated behind a glass partition in a separate area of the courtroom.
Throughout the proceedings, Mr. McKnight sat motionless in the high, three-sided prisoner’s box, his lower face hidden behind a broad black mask.
Mr. McKnight was charged with three counts of sexual assault in August, 2016, after three women independently went to police with allegations he had raped them.
When those charges were made public, multiple other women came forward with allegations dating back to 2010. At its highest, the case against Mr. McKnight involved 26 charges against 21 women.
He went to trial in October on 13 charges of sexual assault.
The highly emotional trial lasted nearly four months and included testimony from 37 witnesses. Twelve women testified to having been sexually assaulted by Mr. McKnight, with one woman testifying both about herself and an assault she said she witnessed on a friend. All of the women were between 17 and 22 at the time.
The women involved in the trial didn’t know each other. Before the sentencing proceedings on Wednesday, some met in the courthouse hallways for the first time.
In the Crown’s sentencing arguments, prosecutor Mark Huyser-Wierenga described the assaults as having been committed with “planning, orchestration, deliberation and manipulation,” and facilitated by drugging, whether by alcohol or an illicit drug.
He added Mr. McKnight had a privileged upbringing and is intelligent and accomplished, which he argued contributes to a “high degree of moral blameworthiness.”
Prosecutor Katherine Fraser disputed many elements contained in written arguments submitted by the defence, including taking issue with what she said were archaic and outdated myths and stereotypes not only around victims, but also around the idea of what a rapist is. Which, she said, “can be used to blame the victims.”
Defence lawyer Dino Bottos has not yet presented argument before the court, but during the trial maintained Mr. McKnight was innocent of all the charges, and that the women were mistaken or lying.
The defence is expected to call evidence about a beating Mr. McKnight suffered while briefly on remand after his arrest in August, 2016, and argue the jailhouse assault should result in a reduction of his sentence.
A second woman described the catastrophic effects the assault by Mr. McKnight has had on her life, including destroying relationships, derailing her work and school, and leaving her highly traumatized, and at times suicidal, during the long, painful journey through the court process.
“I have had to relive this nightmare repeatedly, from the preliminary hearing, to the trial, and now the sentencing. It’s like having an old wound that is nearly healed then digging a spoon into it ...,” she said in her victim impact statement. “I now understand why it is so hard for other victims of sexual assault to come forward, having to go through all of this.”
The first victim who spoke on Wednesday said she spent years after her assault in 2014 asking herself why it happened, and whether she did something to cause it.
“I now realize that this is not something I did. I am not to blame. I did not ask for this,” she said, staring directly at Mr. McKnight. “I am given no relief from the trauma you caused me, and I will give you no more of my life from this day forward. I am no longer a number. I am a victim.”
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.