The chief of the Alexander First Nation has been found not guilty of sexual assault relating to a charge laid against him last year.
In March, Kurt Burnstick was charged with one count of sexual assault as a result of an investigation by Morinville RCMP that began in December 2015.
The complainant, who is a cousin of Burnstick, testified Wednesday morning. She told court that Burnstick made advances toward her and intimidated her through text messages over several years. She said she made up excuses when he asked to see her.
“I didn’t want to see him or be alone with him,” she told court.
She said in October 2015, she was alone with Burnstick in his office. She said they hugged and then he grabbed her and slapped her on the buttocks.
The defence disputed her account, arguing Burnstick was doing nothing more than caring for a friend and band member. In his testimony, Burnstick said his text messages were strictly to check on her well-being.
“I’m a friend. That’s all it was,” he said. “I reached out to give her a hug like I do everyone else. After that, I opened the door and we walked out.”
Judge Clifton Purvis said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove without a reasonable doubt that the incident occurred, but did not believe that Burnstick was acting strictly as a kind-hearted, concerned person.
Burnstick broke into tears when the verdict was read and collapsed into the arms of his supporters.
Members of the Alexander Women’s Warriors group were outside the courthouse before the start of the trial Wednesday to show support for the complainant. The group was also calling on the chief to step down.
“He still can go back to work on Monday as the chief and that is something that is not acceptable,” Janet Campbell with the Alexander Women’s Warriors said.
Burnstick has also been charged with two separate counts of sexual assault as well as one count of break and enter with intent in connection with a separate alleged incident.
According to the Alexander Women’s Warriors group, those charges stem from 1985.
In September, after calls for him to step down, Burnstick released a statement to Global News to say he has no intention of giving up his position.
“Sexual assault is a very serious problem all across Canada, especially in First Nations communities,” the statement said in part. “While I take the issue of sexual assault very seriously, I deny the allegations made against me, and will vigorously defend myself in court.
“As the elected leader of the Alexander First Nation people, I believe strongly in the democratic principle and the presumption of innocence. I will not be stepping down and I ask the people of Alexander to continue to support and respect each other. Alexander is a great place to live and I’m proud to be from here.”
With files from Quinn Ohler, Global News.