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Sex charge against rural mayor dropped

Never owned vehicle allegedly used in 1966

A Manitoba mayor accused of an indecent assault of a child dating back nearly 50 years has seen justice officials toss out the case against him, his defence lawyer says.

The Crown has elected to drop its case against Ste. Anne Mayor Bernard Vermette following a review of their files and after Vermette showed evidence that clears his name, Hymie Weinstein said in an interview with the Free Press.

Vermette, 74, was formally charged in September after a woman came forward to complain she had been assaulted in 1966 when she was nine years old.

Vermette would have been in his mid-20s at the time.

RCMP in St. Pierre Jolys began their investigation in May 2012, arrested Vermette last July and released him on a promise to appear in court.

The case has gone through several routine remands since Vermette was charged.

But it was recently assigned to a senior prosecutor, who has agreed to stay it based on concerns over the legitimacy of the charge, Weinstein said.

"I also provided factual evidence to the Crown that the allegation against Mr. Vermette was not valid and he was not the perpetrator, if in fact something occurred in 1966," said Weinstein.

Vermette is able to prove he never owned the kind of vehicle the complainant alleged was the scene of the assault, the lawyer said.

"We provided proof that my client never, ever owned that type of vehicle," Weinstein said.

The Crown met with the complainant last week and then agreed to drop the case, he added.

Vermette has always denied the allegation and he's relieved at the outcome, Weinstein said.

"He was extremely anxious when he was charged -- he told police there was no way he would have done something like this," he said.

"I know I'm innocent -- for a fact," Vermette told the Free Press in a brief interview after the allegations surfaced.

A married father of three and grandfather to five children, Vermette was elected mayor of Ste. Anne in 2006.

He previously sat as a councillor from 1974 to 1980, according to an online biography.

He's known for his volunteer work in the community and a business he started in the 1970s continues operations to this day, the biography states.

After news of his arrest broke, Vermette was slandered by unknown people who defaced highway property and Vermette's business signs with derogatory names, said Weinstein.

The dated nature of the case was "unusual," Weinstein admitted, adding he is grateful for the Crown's swift action to dismiss the charges.

The case was so old the charge Vermette faced doesn't exist any longer. It was replaced in 1983 by new categories of sexual offences.

In 1966, the maximum punishment for indecent assault was five years in prison and a whipping.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

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