Rev. Brent Hawkes was found not guilty of indecent assault and gross indecency in a Kentville, N.S. court on Tuesday by Judge Alan Tufts, who said he found inconsistencies in the testimony of the witnesses.
Hawkes was a teacher in Annapolis Valley, N.S., in the 1970s, and the charges related to allegations made by men who were students at the time.
Hawkes had pleaded not guilty.
Outside the courtroom, Hawkes thanked his supporters, family and the judge for his decision.
“I’m so glad this is over so that I can return home and serve my church and my community as best I can,” he said.
Provincial court Judge Alan Tufts handed down the verdict Tuesday in Kentville, N.S., saying he found significant inconsistencies in the testimony of the witnesses.
“It’s easy to speculate,” said Tufts, “but that’s not something that’s permitted here.”
Douglas Elliott, a Toronto lawyer and the chair of the Brent Hawkes Support Fund was in court to support Hawkes Tuesday.
“It was very emotional,” said Elliott, “There were a lot of tears from Brent and everyone else. It’s been tough.”
Elliott criticised the crown for taking the case forward because “this case never stood a chance,” he said, adding the trial has taken a physical and emotional toll on Hawkes.
“It was a terrible case and why would it bring such a weak case that’s 40 years old against a man who’s clearly not a menace to the public?”
Elliott also expressed concern for victims of sexual assault who may see this case and decide not to pursue legal action out of fear for a similar result.
“When the legal system takes forward a bad case that’s doomed to failure and it crashes and burns, well then people with strong cases are afraid to step forward.”
In a statement from the board of Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto (MCC), Anne Brayley, the board chair, wrote they are “pleased to have this matter settled with a positive outcome for our Senior Pastor.”
Rev. Rachelle Brown, the interim moderator at MCC said she wasn’t surprised by the outcome.
“For people who know and care about Brent this is a confirmation of what they have believed to be true all along. That Brent is a man of incredible character..”
During his trial, one witness told the court that Hawkes had encouraged a number of teens to strip at an alcohol-fuelled party in his trailer, before taking him to a bedroom for sex.
Hawkes was a highly respected activist and pastor, who championed human rights for decades. He was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2007, was the grand marshal of the WorldPride Parade three years ago in Toronto and officiated NDP leader Jack Layton’s funeral.
His activism has seen him chained to the legislature in protest, beaten by police and on a hunger strike for 25 days to protest the bathhouse raids of 1981.
Born in Bath, N.B., to a Baptist family in 1950, Hawkes came to Toronto in 1977, becoming the pastor of the gay-friendly MCC.
The criminal charges against him came as a shock to his community and people who know him.
In a statement at the time of the charges, Hawkes wrote, “I want to be crystal clear: I am innocent of these allegations. The purported events simply did not take place.
— With files from the Canadian Press and Toronto Star staff