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BDSM defense will bolster protection of abusive men, says advocate

Christopher Garnier’s legal team is playing a dangerous game suggesting consensual choking caused the death of Catherine Campbell.

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Christopher Garnier is escorted into court on Monday, December 4. - RILEY SMITH
  • RILEY SMITH
  • Christopher Garnier is escorted into court on Monday, December 4.

As soon as she became aware of the Christopher Garnier trial, Laura says a familiar feeling began to sink in.

“Here we go again,” she says. “Here’s another person using BDSM to cover up abuse.”

A Dartmouth member of the BDSM-embracing Society of Bastet, Laura (not her real name) says the narrative playing out over the last few weeks in a Halifax courtroom will only serve to bolster the defences used to protect abusive men.

Garnier is accused of murdering Catherine Campbell, an off-duty Truro police officer. So far the jury has heard testimony that the two met at the Alehouse bar downtown on September 11, 2015, and later went to an apartment on McCully Street. Campbell’s remains were found a few days later below the Halifax-end of the Macdonald Bridge. The Crown alleges Garnier put Campbell’s body into a green compost bin, and rolled it down North Street before disposing of her remains.

The autopsy report from Nova Scotia medical examiner Matthew Bowes shows Campbell was choked to death.

During defense attorney Joel Pink’s cross-examination of Bowes, the lawyer presented an elaborate hypothetical scenario to the court involving a man and woman who met at the Alehouse and engaged in rough sex later in the evening. Pink said the hypothetical woman hypothetically told the man she had a fantasy about being choked and asked him to oblige. She also (hypothetically) asked him to slap her, which caused her to start bleeding. The hypothetical man left to get a towel, and when he returned the woman wasn’t moving.

The implication from Pink is that Campbell became the inadvertent victim of fatal erotic asphyxiation. But Laura, who has trained in “breath play” for her role overseeing safety practices at Bastet events, says Pink’s fantasy scenario about what happened that night doesn’t add up.

“It doesn’t seem feasible, from a BDSM point of view,” she says. “You don’t go from being choked to dead.”

Anyone with basic first aid knows there are physical signs that emerge when someone is in danger, says Laura. If something does go wrong, the first action should be to offer medical assistance.

“You start CPR, chest compressions, you call 911,” says Laura. “That’s just being a decent human 101.”

This isn’t the first time Laura has been concerned about the public misunderstanding of BDSM practices in the courts. Jian Ghomeshi used the fetish to initially defend himself when news of sexual assault allegations against the former radio host first broke.

Laura says there’s still great confusion about how BDSM works, and the priority that practitioners place on “safe, sane and consensual.”
Aside from the misconceptions of her community that could arise from the trial, Laura is also concerned the defense’s tactics could act as an excuse for men who abuse their partners.

“It could attract abusers,” she says. People who think, “‘I can get away with this and call it BDSM.’”

The medical examiner testified at Garnier’s trial that he had never seen a case of erotic asphyxiation before, and that aside from her choking injuries he believes Campbell’s nose was broken prior to her death.

The trial of Christopher Garnier continues for the next two weeks, with a verdict expected before Christmas.