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Brent Hawkes pleads not guilty to criminal charges

LGBT activists launch support fund to pay for legal costs

Rachel Lauren Clark and Douglas Elliott speak at a Toronto press conference launching the Brent Hawkes Support Fund on April 11, 2016. Credit: Arshy Mann/Daily Xtra

Brent Hawkes, who is facing two criminal charges in Nova Scotia dating back to the 1970s, has pleaded not guilty.

Hawkes, who is the senior pastor of Toronto’s Metropolitan Community Church, was charged with indecent assault and gross indecency in December 2015. He did not appear in court April 11, 2016, but was represented by Halifax lawyer Joel Pink on behalf of his Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby, as reported by Canadian Press.

According to the Nova Scotia RCMP, the charges relate to a single complainant. The RCMP has stated that the complainant was a minor at the time. However, because the age of consent for sex between men was 21 at the time, it’s unclear if the complainant would be considered a minor today.

A number of prominent individuals in Canada’s LGBT community have rallied behind Hawkes and created the Brent Hawkes Support Fund to help with his legal costs. Hawkes has retained Ruby, a prominent criminal and constitutional lawyer, as part of his defence team.

The fund is co-chaired by Douglas Elliott, a prominent gay-rights lawyer, Kim Vance, the executive director of ARC International and former president of EGALE, and Al McNutt, an LGBT-rights and HIV activist from Nova Scotia and a past president of the Canadian AIDS Society.

“Whether these charges are the product of unconscious homophobia or deliberate homophobia, they are undoubtedly homophobic,” said Elliott at a press conference held at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives on April 11. “They should never have been laid in this 40-year-old case.”

Elliott argued that gross indecency is an inherently homophobic charge that should never be used by prosecutors.

“There are better tools in historical situations,” he said. “This is a toxic tool in the prosecutor’s toolkit.”

Gross indecency, which was removed from the Criminal Code in 1985, essentially criminalized consensual sex between men. However, it is now used by prosecutors to charge people in cases of historical sexual assault regardless of the gender of the victims.

Elliott said he had spoken with Hawkes and MCC Toronto about the fund, but that the initiative was independent from either party.

Rachel Lauren Clark, an LGBT activist and board member of Pride Toronto, said that any money left over in the fund would be split three ways between MCC Toronto, an unspecified organization for people who are wrongly accused, and an unspecified group helping survivors of sexual assault.

“Sexual assault is a very serious crime that is plaguing our society,” she said. “And we all need to stand with the victims, as we have stood with the members of the LGBT community in their decades-long fight for equality.”

While very few details have emerged about the allegations against Hawkes, the charges have prompted a rush of support from public figures, his congregation and members of Canada’s LGBT community.

Politicians such as Bob Rae, Olivia Chow and Craig Scott have all publicly expressed their support of Hawkes.

Elliott said that while the complainant has access to victims services in Nova Scotia, Hawkes is entitled to no such assistance from the government.

“The state provides experienced lawyers who prosecute the case for free, Brent has to pay his lawyers,” said Elliott. “I don’t think there’s an imbalance in favour of Brent here. On the contrary, the victim has all of the resources of the state on his side and Brent has none of them. Brent has to rely solely on his community and his friends.”

He went on to say that “the complainant even though he’s not a minor anymore, has the benefit of anonymity.”

“And that’s as it should be. But he does have that substantial benefit.”

Hawkes is scheduled to go on trial in Nova Scotia in November 2016.