Sheldon Forgette was running for political office when news of a domestic incident at his home over Thanksgiving weekend in 2022 emerged, leading to multiple charges and various breaches of his release conditions.
Forgette, the former whiz kid deputy mayor of North Bay and a one-time mayoral candidate, has said publicly that those charges and the subsequent media attention didn't just cost him the election. "I lost everything," he told BayToday while always promising to defend himself in the court of law and the court of public opinion.
On Monday, Justice Erin J. Lainevool found Forgette not guilty on all four counts heard in his trial by judge that spanned two full days earlier this month.
Forgette emerged from the courtroom following Justice Lainevool's decision looking somewhat pale and unsteady. "I almost cried," he remarked to defence counsel, Shawn Hamilton.
Hamilton, clearly satisfied with the judgment, explained neither he nor Forgette would be commenting on the trial's resolution as there is still one outstanding breach charge before the court.
In this trial resolved on Monday, Forgette faced charges of forcible confinement, assault, and two counts of breaching his release conditions.
On the first day of the trial, held Nov. 2, the Crown's chief witness, Christine Campbell recounted her version of the events of the evening of Oct. 9, 2022, and the early morning hours of Oct. 10, 2022. Campbell was a common-law partner of Forgette's at the time of the Thanksgiving 2022 domestic incident at the home they shared.
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On Nov. 8, Crown Attorney Stephanie Dixon called six witnesses — the complainant's best friend and four North Bay Police Service officers — to the stand.
Defence counsel Shawn Hamilton and Forgette were content to move to final arguments without calling a single witness.
On Monday, Justice Lainevool provided a recap of the testimony given while mentioning certain key pieces of evidence before presenting her reasons for judgment. In her address, she compared the burden of proof on the Crown to putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle through witness testimony, setting the stage for what would follow.
Justice Lainevool noted a "simmering disagreement" was taking place between Forgette and Campbell that Thanksgiving weekend. She noted Campbell's best friend McCoy was a credible witness and testified to the underlying issues in the relationship between Forgette and Campbell, even suggesting Campbell leave the relationship.
It was clear the judgment was going Forgette's way by Justice Lainevool's summary. Campbell was a credible witness but not a reliable one, submitted Justice Lainevool. Campbell had acknowledged discrepancies between her police statements and her testimony in court.
According to the judge, Forgette's actions did not satisfy the requirements of a forcible confinement charge. The gathering of evidence surrounding the wet sweatshirt and the entry of said evidence did not prove that Forgette assaulted Campbell by throwing a glass of water in her face. There was confusion in the accounts of where the hole in the drywall was located in the house and why the police knew to photograph these specific areas of the house. The bat Forgette allegedly broke the coffee table with found its way to the kitchen without explanation.
"It was unclear how these movements unfolded," offered Justice Lainevool. In short, she ruled the Crown did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The messages that led to one breach charge were never definitively proven to have originated with Forgette. As far as the other breach, Campbell's recollection to the police that the truck stopped in the Tim Hortons parking lot and she identified Forgette was disproved at trial.
"It is certainly possible, even likely," Forgette was behind these actions, said the judge. "Possible is not proof."
Justice Lainevool concluded her reasons for judgment by stating all Canadians are afforded the presumption of innocence when facing charges in a court of law and the onus is on the Crown to provide the evidence for the judge to return a finding of guilt. In this case, those legal parameters were not met.
"The court's role is not to complete the jigsaw puzzle," said Justice Lainevool. "Mr. Forgette, you are free to go."