Reverend Brent Hawkes has been found not guilty in a sexual assault case that stretched back more than 40 years to Hawkes’ days as a high school teacher in Kings County, NS in the 1970s.
Hawkes, a longtime and influential leader of Toronto’s gay community and recipient of the Order of Canada, was acquitted of one charge of indecent assault and one charge of gross indecency. One of Hawkes’ sisters clapped and laughed in relief as Judge Alan Tufts rendered the not-guilty verdict on Tuesday, Jan 31, 2017.
“In the end, it is not clear what happened in the bedroom that evening 41 years ago. It is easy to speculate, but that is something that is not permitted here,” Tufts said in his written decision.
“I acknowledge that there is a likelihood or even a probability that some sexual activity happened in the bedroom, possibly between the accused and [the complainant]. For the reasons I expressed above, I am not convinced of that beyond a reasonable doubt. For that reason the accused is found not guilty.”
Tufts concluded that while the complainant’s testimony was compelling and vivid at first examination, he found frailties within the story and significant inconsistencies with the other witnesses. “There is a strong possibility that [the complainant] reconstructed and recreated and possibly embellished this event over time, as a result of memories that came to him later on,” he wrote in his 59-page ruling.
The identity of the complainant and two other witnesses are protected by a publication ban. During the six-day trial in November 2016 the complainant testified that Hawkes had forced oral sex with him in a trailer when he was 16 years old. Hawkes categorically denied that any sexual activity had taken place.
Outside of the courtroom, Hawkes read a brief statement expressing his relief and thanking his husband, family and supporters, but did not take any questions, saying he needed to leave for the airport.
Hawkes’ defence lawyer Clayton Ruby was absent during the reading of the verdict.
Toronto lawyer Doug Elliott was not involved in the trial but spoke to the media afterward, criticizing the Crown for charging Hawkes without sufficient evidence.
Elliott chaired a support fund for Hawkes, which he says raised more than $100,000 in donations to cover legal costs. “There’s a lot of people in the community who are very grateful for the human rights work that has been done by Reverend Hawkes over the years,” Elliott told the media.
“It was our view from the beginning that this case should have never been brought to trial.”