Rev. Brent Hawkes Charged In Nova Scotia
By Dan MacKay
Brent Hawkes, the openly gay pastor who performed the first same-sex marriages in Canada, has been charged with sexually assaulting a male in Kentville 40-odd years ago. Nova Scotia RCMP say that the charges relate to a single complainant who was a minor at the time; the age of consent for sex between men was 21 then, but we don’t know how old the complainant was at the time, so he may or may not be considered a minor today.
Hawkes, a member of the Order of Canada, responded with a written statement, saying “I want to be crystal clear: I am innocent of these allegations. The purported events simply did not take place.”
According to U Ottawa law professor Constance Backhouse, the vague crime of “gross indecency” was historically used to target gay men; before it was removed from the Criminal Code in 1985, it carried a five-year prison sentence.
The second charge, “indecent assault on a male,” carried a possible 10-year prison sentence and a whipping before it was repealed thirty years ago. According to Backhouse, while whipping was still on the books, it had long fallen out of use.
Dalhousie professor emeritus John Yogis notes that alleged victims of sexual assault are probably more prone to come forward these days, even for incidents that may have occurred 30 or 40 years ago. There are several anti-sexual assault organizations for men and boys in Canada which may actively encourage participants to report incidents to the authorities as part of the healing process.
Hawkes has received a rush of support from public figures, his congregation and members of Canada’s LGBT community including Halifax activist, former Wayves Magazine volunteer, and founder of ARC International, an international LGBT rights organization, Kim Vance.
WAYVES: Why do you think Hawkes is being charged at this point, and specifically why with the antiquated charge of gross indecency?
VANCE: He's been charged because someone contacted the authorities to report an alleged offence. In terms of the charge laid, I don't think there was any harmful intent on the part of the police. I think their approach in these kinds of cases is quite cookie-cutter. There is an allegation, they go to their little handbook about what charges existed at the time, and they lay them. That approach needs to change, and to be honest, the LGBT community has taken its eye off the ball on this one, because this is not the only time (even in N.S. recently), where these charges are being used. Gross indecency is a charge dealing with deviant behaviour, essentially. And it was mostly targetted toward gay sex as deviant. These kinds of laws around deviancy have no modern day equivalent. If the allegation is one of assault or non-consensual conduct, there is an older assault charge that can cover that.
WAYVES: Do you think that there’s any way to achieve a balance between Hawkes’ supporters, and the #webelievesurvivors community?
VANCE: As a survivor myself, I don't have any conflict about challenging charges that shouldn't be laid, and supporting someone that I know and trust, who claims they are innocent. A hashtag doesn't necessarily represent a community, but I understand and am very sympathetic to the sentiment of believing survivors. I personally chose not to use the court system for a number of reasons and I think there are fundamental flaws in how justice is administered in sexual assault cases. But do I believe that everyone who ever makes a complaint to the police is not always correct or free from any motivation other than pure justice, I don't think anyone could say otherwise with absolute certainty. And I have a particular concern about how someone can fairly defend themselves 40 years later from a charge that is so damaging and has been such a painful (and mythical) correlation targeting gay men in particular for years.
What are you organizing here in Nova Scotia? How can people contribute? We are planning to do some community education initiatives and would encourage people to keep an eye out for these in the coming months. We are also working with justice officials around the legacy of these charges and the necessity (of which there isn't) to continue to use some of them, like gross indecency.
WAYVES: What are you organizing here in Nova Scotia? How can people contribute?
VANCE: We are planning to do some community education initiatives and would encourage people to keep an eye out for these in the coming months. We are also working with justice officials around the legacy of these charges and the necessity (of which there isn't) to continue to use some of them, like gross indecency.