Toronto pastor Brent Hawkes found not guilty of sex crimes in Nova Scotia

A Nova Scotia judge has found prominent Toronto pastor Brent Hawkes not guilty of sex crimes dating to the 1970s.

Judge acquits on charges of gross indecency and indecent assault

Brent Hawkes was found not guilty on Tuesday of indecent assault and gross indecency in a case the dealt with allegations dating to the 1970s. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

A Nova Scotia judge has found prominent Toronto pastor Brent Hawkes not guilty of sex crimes dating back to the 1970s. 

Hawkes, a high-profile LGBT and human rights activist who officiated at former NDP leader Jack Layton's state funeral in 2011, pleaded not guilty to charges of gross indecency and indecent assault.

As Judge Alan Tufts acquitted 66-year-old Hawkes Tuesday in Kentville provincial court, there were gasps in the packed courtroom and brief applause.

Tufts said the complainant in the case gave "vivid testimony" during the trial, but it was contradicted by other evidence. He said the testimony was not reliable enough to support a conviction.

The judge also said he didn't believe all of Hawkes's testimony, but the onus was on the Crown to prove its case.

'Glad that this is over'

Outside court, Hawkes made a brief statement thanking his family, friends, lawyers and the judge. 

"I am so glad that this is over so I can return home and serve my church and my community as best that I can," he said.

He did not take questions from the media. His lawyer, Clayton Ruby, said it was a "good hearing with a good judge." Hawkes, he said, can now "continue the selfless work that has shaped his contribution to society for over 40 years." 

The allegations against Hawkes date back to 1976, when he was a teacher in his 20s in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.

His trial heard emotional testimony from a middle-aged man who said Hawkes led him down a hallway naked during a drunken get-together at his trailer and forced oral sex on him in a bedroom when he was about 16 years old.

Hawkes denied the allegations during testimony in November.

Complainant had 'healthy attitude'

Prosecutor Bob Morrison said the Crown intends to review the judge's 53-page decision in detail before deciding whether to appeal.

The police investigation was thorough, he said, and the complainant had a "very healthy attitude."

"He is aware that these historical sexual assault cases are difficult and so he was prepared for any outcome," Morrison said.

"His attitude, and I thought it was a really healthy one, was: 'I'm going to come forward, I'm going to say what happened to me, I'm going to tell the truth and leave the rest up to the judge.'"

Church pleased with ruling

Originally from Bath, N.B., Hawkes has been a senior pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto for years.

In a statement, the church said it was pleased with Tuesday's court decision.

"Our support for Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes as a man of the highest integrity has never wavered, based on our 40 wonderful years of experience with him as our senior pastor," said Anne Brayley, the church's vice-moderator and board chair.

Considered one of the spiritual leaders of Toronto's gay community, he is also known as a vocal proponent of same-sex marriage and in 2007 was appointed to the Order of Canada.

'Probability' there was sexual activity

In his decision, Tufts said a "great deal" of Hawkes's testimony at trial was contradicted by other witnesses and he did not believe the accused.

But while there was a "likelihood or even a probability" that some sexual activity happened in the bedroom, the judge said he was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.

He said the complainant was intoxicated that night, and his testimony did not add up in key places with that of two witnesses and other evidence.

"We simply do not know how much is his true memory of what he actually recalled as opposed to what he may have recreated or reconstructed," Tufts said.

"I say this with the greatest respect to [the complainant] because I do not want to diminish the real pain I witnessed when he testified."

He noted that when the man was interviewed by police, he simply read what he had prepared for his therapy sessions. Tufts said his therapy sessions were understandably centred around how he felt, rather than the accuracy of his account.

With files from the CBC's Blair Rhodes and The Canadian Press