Brent Hawkes, the senior pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, spoke at a panel at The 519, Toronto’s LGBT community centre, on June 7, 2016, commemorating the 35th anniversary of Operation Soap. After the event, Daily Xtra was able to ask him one question about the two historical sexual assault charges he’s currently facing.
Hawkes was charged with gross indecency and indecent assault in December 2015. The charges relate to allegations from the the 1970s. Hawkes has pleaded not guilty and will be going to trial in Nova Scotia this November.
Numerous public figures have expressed their support for Hawkes, including former Ontario premier Bob Rae, former NDP MPs Olivia Chow and Craig Scott, Pride Toronto board member Rachel Lauren Clark, the executive director of ARC International and former president of Egale Kim Vance, and Al McNutt, an LGBT-rights and HIV activist from Nova Scotia and a past president of the Canadian AIDS Society.
Hawkes has retained Clayton Ruby, one of Canada’s most prominent lawyers, to fight the charges. Supporters of Hawkes have also launched a defence fund to defray his legal costs.
In light of all of this support, Daily Xtra asked Hawkes about the impact such overwhelming public support for him could have on potential survivors of sexual assault. This is the first time that Hawkes has answered a question from a journalist since the charges became public.
The full exchange is below. Some edits have been made for clarity.
Daily Xtra: Now I know you can’t speak directly to the charges that are against you, with the trial coming up in November, but I came to see you speak in the first service after the charges were announced. I saw you speak very powerfully about how you didn’t want other conversations to get put down if people came out to support you.
But one thing I have seen is a lot of very public figures come out and express support for you. At a time when we’re saying that we should believe survivors, how do we reconcile these two things without pushing too far in any which direction?
Brent Hawkes: If you were at the whole service you would have heard me also say, in having conversations on things like this, we need to be careful of language that we use.
And I think that we need to be careful when people make accusations when someone has made a claim that they’re out for money or a crazy person. We need to be very careful so that we don’t then make it more difficult for people who have legitimate complaints to come forward.
In the same way when we use survivor language to describe everybody who has a complaint, we have to remember that some complaints are not legitimate. And so yes, when someone is a survivor and it’s been proven and shown that they’re a survivor, we need to put all kinds of resources to help them.
But just by someone saying they’re a survivor, it doesn’t make them a survivor.