Lawyer Clayton Ruby questions victim’s memory

Editor’s Note: The story below contains colloquial and graphic details of an alleged sexual assault. Also, the decision in the historic sexual assault trial of Rev. Brent Hawkes, originally scheduled for Jan. 18, was postponed till after The Interim went to press. Because Associate Chief Judge Alan T. Tufts needed more time, the matter was adjourned until Jan. 31.

Gay-rights leader Rev. Brent Hawkes faces historic allegations of sexual assault.

Gay-rights leader Rev. Brent Hawkes faces historic allegations of sexual assault.

The rural Nova Scotia trial of Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes on sexual assault charges heard a now middle-aged complainant tearfully offer multisensory details of allegations dating back to the mid-1970s. The identity of the alleged victim and the two other prosecution witnesses are protected by publication ban.

Hawkes, senior pastor at Toronto’s Metropolitan Community Church, is a longstanding leader in the organized LGBT community. He is best known for officiating at the world’s first legal same-sex marriage ceremony in 2001 and at the funeral for NDP leader Jack Layton in 2011. Hawkes was awarded the Order of Canada in 2007. In June 2015, notables including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and soon-to-be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broadcast video greetings celebrating Hawkes’ 65th birthday.

Associate Chief Judge Alan Tufts presided over the trial Nov. 14 through 23, in Kentville provincial court. Hawkes, who was a teacher and coach at the time of the alleged incident, is charged with one count each of gross indecency and indecent assault. None of the allegations have been proven in court. Hawkes has repeatedly denied that any sexual activity took place on the evening in question.

The alleged victim, who was then about 16, recalled visiting Hawkes’ mobile home with his peers. Both he and two other witnesses recalled the ready availability of alcohol to minors when they visited Hawkes. The alleged victim and one other witness described a drinking game of “strip caps” initiated by Hawkes. Both prosecution witnesses other than the complainant alleged that Hawkes had made sexual advances towards them too.

The alleged victim testified that he was “falling-down drunk” when Hawkes led him down the hallway to a bedroom. “I hear him telling me I was beautiful, I had a body like a Greek god. I remember him telling me, ‘I want to take you to Provincetown, because’ – and I quote – ‘all the other fa****s there would be jealous’.” The Massachusetts location referenced would later be acknowledged by Hawkes as a known gay vacation spot Hawkes had visited.

The alleged victim cried: “I remember his hands on my body; I remember him biting me, kissing, sticking his tongue in my mouth, his stubble on my cheek, the stench of his body, the weight of his body.

“I remember him telling me he was going to give me a blow job; it would be the best (oral sex) I ever got, because nobody knows a man’s body like another man. I remember him saying he knew he’d have me; he’d been grooming me for two years by that point in time.”

The alleged victim already had a loved one who was openly gay. He testified that when he tried to disclose his allegations to his parents, his father denied that Hawkes was gay because Hawkes wasn’t effeminate, while his mother feared that the allegations could ruin Hawkes’ career. “And it was like someone had stabbed a knife in my heart, because the first people I told, people I trusted the most, dismissed it, and ironically Mr. Hawkes had said, ‘You can tell people, but they won’t believe you, because you’re just a kid’.”

The charges were laid against Hawkes in December 2015 and made public in February 2016. A non-profit organization to raise money for his defence was announced in April 2016. The Brent Hawkes Support Fund argues that the two relevant sections of the Criminal Code, which were repealed in 1983 and 1985, respectively, were inherently homophobic and should never have been applied to him.

Clayton Ruby, who led Hawkes’ high-powered defence team, did not pursue the bias argument and instead based his case on insisting that the alleged incidents never happened. Ruby repeatedly challenged the reliability of the prosecution witnesses’ memories.

Ruby called as expert witness Timothy Moore, chair of the psychology department at Glendon College, who proposed that these memories could have been impaired by the large quantities of alcohol the witnesses had consumed, by the passage of decades, and by “imagination inflation” during the process by which the complainant wrote his story for a group of survivors of sexual assault. However, Moore also conceded, “The research shows that traumatic experiences are recalled similarly to, and perhaps even better than less onerous other experiences. They typically contain rich detail and coherence. Emotionally impactful experiences tend to be well remembered.”

Crown Prosecutor Bob Morrison explained that he was prosecuting Hawkes under these particular charges because they were what was applicable at the time of the alleged events in mid-1970s, and that these charges continue to be used for sexual assaults against males. Speaking to The Interim, Morrison clarified his starting point: “This has nothing to do with anybody’s sexual orientation or prosecuting someone because they’re gay. We have an allegation of nonconsensual sexual assault.”

Hawkes, taking the stand in his own defence, said, “No alcohol was served to underage people by me.” He denied suggesting any drinking game. He testified that he was concerned about drinking and driving because of fatal student accidents in his hometown of Bath, N.B. Yet he also said that when the three prosecution witnesses came to his mobile home, he accepted their offer of a drink of moonshine cider, which he spat out because it was “g**awful.”

When Morrison requested permission to call up to three rebuttal witnesses who would testify that Hawkes served alcohol to minors, the defence instead stipulated that minors did consume alcohol at the mobile home. “That’s not what I had recollected (Hawkes’) evidence was . . . but the defence did concede that yes, in fact, he was aware that was taking place,” Morrison told reporters.

On June 16, 2016, gay rights advocacy group EGALE published Grossly Indecent: The Just Society Report, which has since become a policy resource to the Trudeau government. Having noted Hawkes’ social prominence, EGALE recommended prosecution on historical charges only occur when the victim was below age 14; for contemporary allegations involving an authority figure, only when the victim was below 18. Either way, the allegations in this case against Hawkes were excluded.

Judge Tufts has reserved his decision on the charges until Jan. 18.