Alexander First Nation chief not guilty of sexual assault charges
Kurt Burnstick also cleared on one count of break and enter to commit an indictable offence
The chief of Alexander First Nation wept and hugged supporters in an Edmonton courtroom Friday after being found not guilty of sexual assault.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Donna Shelley acquitted Kurt Burnstick of three charges: two counts of sexual assault and one count of break and enter to commit an indictable offence.
The charges dating back to 1985 involved a female summer student working on a community newsletter on the band's reserve, 40 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.
She can't be named because of a publication ban.
Earlier this week, Burnstick testified that he believed sexual encounters between him and the woman were consensual when they occurred. Burnstick was 19 at the time. The summer student was 15.
- Alexander First Nation chief says he believed sexual encounters were consensual
- Alexander First Nation chief pleads not guilty to sexual assault charges
In court, the woman said she did not feel she was a willing participant in the sexual activity.
Justice Shelley told court on Friday she was unable to determine whether the woman did or did not consent and therefore she was left with reasonable doubt.
"There is no doubt that some of this occurred," she said. "There was physical contact."
But she said the woman's "recollection of certain matters" raised issues for her.
Defence lawyer Michael Sparks said Burnstick was happy with the result and has plans to spend time with his family.
Outside the courtroom, the mother of Burnstick's accuser said she couldn't believe the outcome.
She said her daughter was not present for the verdict but would learn of it soon.
"We're respecting the integrity of the ruling today," said Anita Arcand, a council member with Alexander First Nation, in a news release following the decision.
"We're moving forward with ensuring that our members are safe in our community."
Burnstick was acquitted in a separate sexual assault case last year.
With files from Andrea Huncar