Before the start of his trial Monday morning in Kentville, Nova Scotia, Reverend Brent Hawkes sat quietly outside the courtroom flanked by family and supporters. A few lengths away, a pen of journalists and reporters waited patiently for Hawkes to pass by so they could capture a few shots.
Hawkes, a longtime and influential 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 (oral sex). The alleged incidents took place between Aug 1, 1974 and Dec 31, 1975 in Kings County, NS, where Hawkes taught high school before moving to Toronto in the mid to late 1970s. The charges were filed in December 2015.
Earlier this year, in April, supporters of Hawkes argued that gross indecency is an inherently homophobic charge that should no longer be used by prosecutors.
The Crown’s first witness testified that he was about 16 and in Grade 11 at the time of the incident. He said that Hawkes was a basketball coach and teacher at his high school.
“It’s not so much what I remember but what after 40 years I’ve been unable to forget. It’s not something I want to remember,” he said.
He recalled that he and some of his friends had gone to Brent Hawkes’ trailer after drinking at a local tavern. He said that Hawkes took him into the small bathroom where Hawkes told him that he had been watching him for a while.
“He was 80 percent sure that I was gay,” the witness claimed, before he said he told Hawkes that he wasn’t. “It was very uncomfortable.” Later under cross-examination, the witness said he thought that Hawkes was hitting on him.
He also testified that Hawkes then changed direction, talking about Jesus and spirituality.
“He said that he had this revelation, this calling,” and that when he put his hand down he could feel God’s hand in his. “It was getting too weird for me,” he said and that he left the bathroom and that nothing else happened.
Later that evening in the living room, he said he saw his teenage friend, the alleged victim, with his pants down. “Brent Hawkes was performing oral sex on him,” he said.
The witness told the court that he never discussed that night with his friends or with anyone else until he spoke to police last year.
Defence lawyer Clayton Ruby spent much of the morning trying to poke holes in the witness’ story, questioning his lack of memories around the rest of the night and asking about differences between his statement to police and his testimony in court.
Under cross examination, the witness said that he had no memory of touching Hawkes sexually, nor of Hawkes touching him.
Ruby asked if there were any openly gay students or teachers at his high school in the ’70s. The witness said he couldn’t remember any. Ruby also asked if he had a negative association with being gay or bisexual. “I think I’m ambivalent. I knew I wasn’t that way, and that’s the only thing I know,” the witness said.
He said he had been reluctant to speak to the police who contacted him about the case.
At the end of his testimony, the first witness was eager to leave, asking Judge Alan Tufts if he would be recalled or if he could leave for the airport.
The second witness took the stand and testified that he and his friends were drinking beer and wine the night of the alleged incident at Brent Hawkes’ residence and they were playing a drinking game with bottle caps.
“We were drunk, but it was a weird drunk,” he said. “When you have four or five heterosexual men in their underwear all of a sudden, something’s going on.” He said that Hawkes had them playing a game where clothing was being removed. He also suggested that their drinks may have been spiked.
He said he saw the alleged victim and Brent Hawkes both nude going down the hall toward the bedroom. Crown attorney Robert Morrison asked if the witness went to see what was going on.
“No, I had my mind about me, but my body wasn’t going along with the brain. Something was wrong,” the man said.
He alleged that Hawkes jumped over on him and kissed him while he was laying on the floor. He said that Hawkes was grinding into him, though they both still had their underwear on. He said that none of the other people present tried to stop Hawkes.
When Morrison asked if there was any other physical contact between people at the party, the witness lowered his head for a few moments looking at the floor before answering yes.
“He had us in the first bedroom and doing bad things,” he said. He alleged that Hawkes had one boy jerk the other off. He says he could only remember the identity of one of the boys in the room, but not who else was present. He later testified that he didn’t remember Hawkes being in the room.
He said the incident was never discussed after that night, saying that even his wife didn’t know until the police started asking questions last year.
The alleged victim’s identity is protected by a publication ban. None of the allegations has been proven in court.
Through the first day of the trial, Hawkes diligently took notes from the front row of the courtroom. At various points, Hawkes was reassured and comforted by his supporters. A woman sitting behind him gently squeezed his shoulder; at another juncture he and his husband clasped hands.
The trial continues Tuesday, Nov 15, 2016.