A week-long jury trial is underway for a Kamloops man accused of sexually assaulting his niece after helping her immigrate to Canada to leave a "chaotic" and abusive home overseas.
Nihal Maligaspe is standing trial on three counts of sexual assault related to incidents alleged to have occurred between October of 2002 and September of 2008.
Crown prosecutor Katie Bouchard gave her opening statement to a jury in B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday, saying Maligaspe helped his niece — Dinushini Maligaspe, the complainant — travel from Sri Lanka to Canada after she confided in him about her “chaotic” home life.
“After she finished high school, she wanted to leave Sri Lanka in hopes of making a better life for herself,” Bouchard said, adding Dinushini's father — the accused’s brother — had been physically abusive.
Court heard Dinushini arrived in Canada in August of 2001.
“She was on a student visa. She was 20 years old, and had never even traveled outside of Sri Lanka before,” Bouchard said.
“She lived with the accused and his family in their home in Kamloops. … They acted as her host family and paid for most of her expenses.”
(Complainants in sexual assault cases typically cannot be named, and their identities are protected by court-ordered publication bans. In this case, Dinushini applied successfully ahead of the trial to a judge to have the ban lifted, meaning she and Maligaspe can be identified by name.)
Court heard Dinushini enrolled in a four-year nursing degree program at a local college, and it was in 2002, her first year of schooling, when Maligaspe allegedly began forcing himself on her.
Bouchard said non-consensual sexual contact continued throughout the remaining years of her schooling, adding at one point, Maligaspe was Dinushini's instructor.
According to Bouchard, Dinushini failed a course, fell into a deep depression and attempted to commit suicide by taking pills.
“She will tell you how she woke up to the accused having sexual intercourse with her,” Bouchard said.
Bouchard said Dinushini had a “lengthy and difficult mental journey” before coming to terms with what had happened.
“She will tell you how it was that she came to confront the accused and then eventually report his sexual abuses of her to the police,” Bouchard said.
Dinushini — who is now 40 years old — appeared in court Tuesday along with a psychiatric service dog and an aromatherapy aid she said will help her stay grounded.
She said she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Defence lawyer Jay Michi also made an opening statement Tuesday, saying the coming days would be sad and emotional and “there’s no avoiding that reality,” but asked the jury to keep an open mind about the evidence presented.
“The ultimate question in this case is not going to be about whether Maligaspe is of bad character," Michi said.
"The question that you are assembled here to answer is whether or not he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the offences alleged."
Michi said the question is not whether sexual activity occurred, but around the question of consent. He said in the coming days, Maligaspe will give evidence in his own defence.
“[The accused] will tell the jury that this was a consensual relationship, albeit a highly inappropriate one — but a consensual one,” Michi said.
He closed by acknowledging that agreeing to be a juror in a sexual assault case took courage, as it “is not an easy task.”
“As you approach this most important task, I hope that you will be guided by what has long been called the gold and silver threads of our justice system — which is a presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Michi said.
The trial is expected to continue for the remainder of the week.