6 min

Gay Toronto pastor Brent Hawkes denies all allegations of sexual assault

Defence suggests student was gay and sought advice from Hawkes after Hawkes decided to quit teaching

Reverend Brent Hawkes leaves the Nova Scotia courthouse where he is currently on trial on charges of gross indecency and indecent assault. Credit: Matthew DiMera/Daily Xtra

Reverend Brent Leroy Hawkes took the stand in his own defence this afternoon, denying all of the allegations of sexual assault made against him so far in his trial.

Hawkes, a longtime leader of Toronto’s gay community and recipient of the Order of Canada, is facing one charge of indecent assault and one of an act of gross indecency for incidents that allegedly took place in 1974 or 1975 in Kings County, NS, where he taught high school before moving to Toronto.

Hawkes said that he didn’t remember teaching the alleged victim, but knew him through extra-curricular activities. “I don’t believe he was in any of the classes I taught,” he said.

He recalled that the three witnesses who testified during the trial did attend his home together on one occasion, but that there were no drinking games where students stripped and there was no sexual activity of any kind.

He said the three students showed up to his home with an extra-large jug of moonshine cider. “I took a drink and it was godawful.”

He testified that he never took the alleged victim to a bedroom in his trailer. He said it was an ordinary evening where nothing stood out.

Hawkes said that he decided to quit teaching and to move to Toronto in 1976 to join the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church where he could be open about his sexuality.

He initially testified that he tendered his resignation in March or April of 1976, but Crown attorney Robert Morrison produced a resignation letter from Hawkes dated November 1975. Hawkes said he must have been mistaken, when he spoke earlier.

Hawkes said there was only one occasion where the alleged victim was alone in his trailer. He said that after he gave notice that he was quitting, word got out that he was gay and that some students sought him out to tell him that they were gay as well.

He said that the alleged victim was one of those students. “He sat down at the table and said, ‘I think I might be gay.’”

Hawkes said he criticized the student for bragging about sleeping with girls and told him that there were places where he could be openly gay. He said they talked a bit and then he left, and they never talked about it again.

Hawkes explained that he wasn’t openly gay for most of his time teaching in the 1970s and was very careful about appearances, since he would have likely been fired. “It was a necessity to be in the closet,” he said.

When he met with gay friends it was in Halifax, he said, away from the small town where he was living. He said he avoided the change rooms and shower rooms when he was coaching.

He testified that it wasn’t unusual for him to host organized events like student council meetings in his home or to have parties on special occasions in his home where teachers and students might be present. He said that this was common for teachers at the time.

Hawkes said that he often had beer and red wine in his home, but that it was only for adults. “No alcohol was served to underage people by me,” Hawkes said.

On the first day of the trial, the first witness had alleged Hawkes had taken him to the small bathroom in his trailer where he thought that Hawkes was hitting on him. He said that it got weird when Hawkes told him that he had felt God’s hand in his own hand.

During his testimony today, Hawkes said he didn’t remember ever telling the first witness the story about feeling God’s hand. However, Hawkes said that in 1976 when he talked to his father over the phone about being gay, he did feel as if God were holding his hand.

“It felt like someone was holding my hand. Physically holding my hand and there was no one else in the room,” he recalled. ”That feeling felt like God was holding my hand.”

The complainant’s second day on the stand

Earlier in the day, the alleged victim returned to give his second day of testimony, as defence lawyer Clayton Ruby continued to attack his credibility.

Ruby referred to the witness’ earlier statement that when Hawkes allegedly ejaculated on his shoulder, “it felt like it burned.”

“You would agree with me that human ejaculate could never be hot enough to burn skin?” Ruby asked.

“Yes. That’s a strange question,” replied the witness, whose identity is protected by a publication ban because he was a minor at the time.

“Was there any scar left?” Ruby continued.

“Physical? No,” the witness replied.

“How did you treat the burn afterwards?”

“How did I treat it?” the witness asked incredulously. “I wiped it off.”

“If there was a burn, I’m wondering what —?”

“It felt like it burned,” the witness clarified.

Ruby asked more similar questions until Judge Alan Tufts interjected.

“Mr Ruby, just to be fair to the witness, he didn’t say — as I understand his evidence — that it burned him. He said it felt it like it burned,” the judge said.

Ruby pressed on.

“When the semen came on your shoulder, you felt it was hot, correct? And it was hot enough that it burned you.”

“You know that the body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, correct?” Ruby asked. “That doesn’t burn. Right?”

“But in dreams that kind of thing can happen,” Ruby suggested.

“No Sir, this was not a dream,” the witness insisted.

Judge Tufts again interjected: “Mr Ruby, the witness is just trying to do his best to answer your question.”

The witness told the court earlier this week that Hawkes had been his teacher in Grade 9, however according to documents produced by Ruby, Hawkes wasn’t a teacher until the following year. The incident is alleged to have taken place during Hawke’s last year as a teacher.

Ruby suggested that the witness’ troubles as a teenager started with a serious car accident that “sent him over the edge” into a depression. The witness refuted the suggestion that he was redirecting his own guilt and shame over the accident on to Hawkes.

Ruby also introduced a civil judgment from the 1970s where the judge in that case ruled that in one part of his testimony the same witness had reconstructed some of the events leading up to a car accident and wasn’t testifying from his memory.

The defence suggested that the witness had heard that Hawkes was gay and went alone to his trailer in the spring of 1976 for advice because he thought he himself might be gay.

The witness said that he had no memory of any such conversation, and that if he had been confused about his sexual orientation he would have sought advice from a close family member who was gay and not from Hawkes.

Ruby pointed out discrepancies between the three Crown witnesses’ accounts of who was present in the trailer on the night of the alleged assault. While all three witnesses were clear that all three of them and Hawkes were there, the second witness said there was at least one or possibly more people present, and the first witness thought there might have been six or eight people there that night.

Ruby also questioned the alleged victim’s memory of Hawkes’ height and weight. The alleged victim described Hawkes as being 6’0 or 6’1 and 200 pounds. The court later heard that Hawkes was 5’7 and 160 pounds in 1976.

“I never did actually weigh him, or ask him his weight,” the witness responded, suggesting there was a perceived difference because of his position of authority.

“The judge has a position of power in this courtroom, but I don’t add 50 pounds on to him,” said Ruby. “Why would you do that?”

“With all due respect, he wasn’t on top of you,” the witness replied.

Ruby again suggested that the man had reconstructed the memory to make Hawkes much larger so that the story of being unable to move with Hawkes on top of him would make more sense.

“I was younger, and more athletic, more agile, and more able to — that’s a question I’ve been asking myself for 40 years. Why didn’t I do something about it? I don’t have an answer for that,” the witness said.

“Why didn’t I stop him? Why didn’t I turn and walk away? Why didn’t I push him away? Why didn’t I punch him? Why didn’t I do something?”

Ruby shortly after suggested another possible explanation. “It’s because nothing happened. Have you thought of that?”

“I wouldn’t be here if nothing happened. I would not subject myself to this onerous process if nothing happened,” the man responded.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

When the charges against Hawkes were filed in December 2015, his supporters argued that gross indecency is an inherently homophobic charge that should no longer be used by prosecutors.

The trial continues Monday, Nov 21, 2016.