‘Inappropriate’ Facebook messages deleted, former police chief’s trial told

Someone deleted inappropriate Facebook messages between former Bridgewater, N.S., police chief John Collyer and a teenage girl he’s accused of sexually assaulting, his trial heard Wednesday.

Collyer is charged with sexual assault and sexual exploitation, and is on trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court. It’s alleged he touched the girl, who was 17 at the time, with his hand in a sexual way in 2016.

The teen’s mother and the mother’s friend have detailed in court how they found messages of a sexual nature between Collyer, who was chief of the Bridgewater Police Service at the time, and the teen while going through the girl’s Facebook account.

The mother showed the messages to her doctor, who alerted the RCMP and eventually Nova Scotia’s police watchdog, the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT). The mother and her friend gave SIRT 34 pages of screenshots they had taken of some of the inappropriate messages.

On Wednesday, the lead investigator with SIRT, Sgt. Gordon Vail, testified he met with the mother and her friend and read through the screenshots. He got help from a trained sexual assault investigator from the RCMP to interview the teen on two separate occasions.

Vail testified he also got a warrant to search Collyer’s home and office, as well as the teen’s home. Computers, thumb drives, tablets and a cellphone were seized and sent for analysis. Nothing was found on those electronics and all were returned to their owners.

Facebook couldn’t retrieve most messages

Vail worked with Nova Scotia prosecutors to file a production order with Facebook’s head office in California to get records of all of Collyer’s Facebook messages and the teen’s Facebook messages.

Although he began in 2016, he called it a “long and arduous process,” and he did not receive the results of the order back from Facebook until the end of April 2017.

Vail said the record of messages he got from Facebook on Collyer’s account showed there were 596 messages between Collyer and the teen between April 14, 2015, and Aug. 7, 2016.

The vast majority of those messages had been deleted, leaving only a record stating that the message had once existed.

Five hundred and thirty-six of the messages were gone, leaving only 60 that were readable.

On the teen’s Facebook account, he found no messages between her and Collyer, and later learned from interviewing her that she had deleted them all.

‘They were innocuous’

Vail said a comparison of the screenshots taken by the mother with the actual records from Facebook showed some of the same messages, but the “inappropriate” ones had been removed.

“They were innocuous. They weren’t inflammatory,” he said of the remaining messages. “There was nothing inappropriate about the 60 conversations that were there, nothing whatsoever.”

The Crown read out some of the messages captured by the mother in screenshots, including references calling the teen “hot,” “dirty limericks,” “foot rubs,” playing truth or dare, and the message “hanging out in your room, if I was alone I would get in trouble.”

Vail said that none of those messages were present in the record he received back from Facebook. 

“What I would call the inflammatory, the inappropriate, the ones that were sexual in nature, they were not there,” he said. 

The discrepancy between the screenshots and the Facebook records is being discussed by the Crown and defence in a hearing called a voir dire.

Justice Mona Lynch will have to decide whether she considers the deletion of the Facebook messages as evidence of “after-the-fact conduct.”

The trial continues Thursday. 

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