Former Mountie guilty of sexual interference, Manitoba appeal court rules

A former Manitoba RCMP officer has seen his conviction for molesting a young girl nearly 10 years ago reinstated. 

After two trials resulting in guilty verdicts — and two successful appeals — a sexual interference conviction against Robert Dowd will be upheld and he must serve a year in jail, Manitoba’s Court of Appeal has ruled. 

In a May 16 written decision released to the public online late last week, a three-judge panel of the top Manitoba court ruled unanimously to strike down a lower court ruling that Dowd should get another trial in his long-fought case. 

Dowd was accused of inappropriately touching a nine-year-old girl on the night of Sept. 26, 2014, while he was off duty at a campground in Manitoba’s Interlake region. Her identity is protected by a publication ban. 

At the time of his arrest Dowd had served 26 years with the Mounties. 

At trial, court heard Dowd was with a group of people, including the girl, her father and her brother, who were having a campfire. He didn’t know them prior to that day. 

At some point in the evening, Dowd was alone with the girl away from the group at the campfire. 

In the absence of forensic evidence, the provincial court judge overseeing the second trial said he relied on the testimony of Dowd, the girl and other witnesses in deciding to convict him. Dowd denied any wrongdoing. 

One of the central issues was testimony around Dowd taking the girl to the washroom in his RV. 

Dowd testified that he showed the girl how to use the toilet because it was different from a normal one. He then waited about 10 minutes outside the motor home but then said he lost track of her and didn’t see where she went after she came back out. 

The trial judge who convicted him said Dowd’s testimony of leaving the girl on her own left him with “significant difficulty” with respect to his credibility. 

“This is on a cold dark night by all accounts, leaving an RV she has never been in before. This is a former RCMP officer and grandfather,” the judge said. “It defies common sense and logic that he does nothing further to make sure she gets back safely to the campfire.”

Also, said the judge, it made no sense that the girl would disappear after using the washroom and return to the campfire at the same time Dowd did. 

Trial judge’s disbelief of Dowd well-articulated, top court says 

Following the guilty verdict, a judge reviewing Dowd’s conviction overturned it on the basis the trial judge made unlawful assumptions about how Dowd was expected to act, the appeal court judges said.

But that was the wrong call, they found. 

“He did not make his credibility findings based on assumptions, generalizations or stereotypes,” said Justice Anne Turner in a 19-page ruling. 

“When the trial judge’s reasons are read as a whole, the reasons for disbelieving [Dowd’s] evidence are not grounded in assumptions or stereotypes about what a grandfather and retired RCMP officer would do.” 

“The trial judge did not believe [Dowd’s] testimony and he articulated several reasons why,” said Turner. “It is well-established that trial judges may rely on reasons and common sense, life experience and logic in assessing credibility.” 

The Court of Appeal ruling reinforces the notion that trial judges are in a prime situation to make such findings given they are the ones hearing the testimony first-hand. 

“Appellate courts have repeatedly said that a trial judge is in the best position to determine matters of fact, especially when a case turns on credibility,” said Turner. 

Dowd could seek leave to appeal his case to the Supreme Court of Canada, but has not done so, court records show.