TORONTO — An openly gay Toronto pastor who officiated the state funeral for former NDP leader Jack Layton and also performed Canada’s first same-sex marriages has been charged in connection with allegations of sexual assault in Nova Scotia dating back to the 1970s.
RCMP Staff Sgt. Craig Burnett in Nova Scotia says Rev. Brent Hawkes is charged with one count each of indecent assault and gross indecency.
The charges “related to allegations of an historic sexual assault in the 1970s,” Burnett said Monday.
Hawkes, 65, is senior pastor with the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto. The native of Bath, N.B., is well known for his human rights activism, which earned him the Order of Canada in 2007.
In a statement, Hawkes says he will fight the charges.
“I want to be crystal clear: I am innocent of these allegations. The purported events simply did not take place,” he said.
“While it is impossible for me to understand where these almost 40-year-old accusations come from, I have a faith that will sustain me as well as faith in Canada’s justice system.”
Hawkes is represented by high-profile criminal lawyer Clayton Ruby.
WATCH: RCMP confirm charges against Rev. Brent Hawkes, say investigation is ongoing
In a separate statement, Ruby said he has known Hawkes “for more than a quarter century” and that his client has done no wrong.
“I am confident Brent will be vindicated, found innocent and that his 38 years of commitment to human rights and progressive Christianity will remain unblemished.”
In a short phone interview, Ruby said Hawkes is due in court April 13.
The board of the Metropolitan Community Church released a statement in support of Hawkes.
“The Board of MCC Toronto knows Rev. Hawkes as a man of high integrity and an inspirational community leader who has led MCC Toronto for 38 years in its quest for tolerance and inclusiveness. Brent has our steadfast support.”
With a file from The Canadian Press
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