Sex-crime charges against a Toronto pastor and well-known LGBT rights activist date back nearly four decades to his time as a teacher in rural Nova Scotia.
Rev. Brent Hawkes, who officiated at Canada's first legal same-sex marriage, as well as former NDP leader Jack Layton's 2011 funeral, is facing charges of indecent assault and gross indecency. According to court documents, the alleged incidents involving a minor happened between Aug. 1, 1974, and Dec. 31, 1975, at or near Greenwood, N.S.
On Monday, Dr. Hawkes said he was innocent and that the purported events "simply did not take place."
"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," he said in a statement. "I wish I could say more. Suffice it to say, I have lots to say. But everything I have to say will be said in court."
Clayton Ruby, a prominent Toronto criminal lawyer, said he is confident that his client will be vindicated. "I have known Brent for more than a quarter-century. I believe him, completely, when he tells me these accusations are false and that these events did not happen," Mr. Ruby said in a statement.
Dr. Hawkes, a senior pastor at Toronto's Metropolitan Community Church since 1977, was charged on Dec. 3, 2015, by the RCMP in Nova Scotia and was represented by his lawyers at an arraignment in provincial court on Monday. The matter is set to return April 13. The RCMP did not provide further details on Monday night about the nature of the allegations, which have not been proved in court.
Chris Hansen with Nova Scotia's public prosecution service said there was little the Crown could say at this point.
She said she couldn't say if there was a connection between the alleged offence and Dr. Hawkes's time working in the school system. "That would be part of the court case, part of the evidence, so, as I say, there is very, very little that we can talk about until the matter comes before the courts."
A spokesman for Nova Scotia's Department of Education wouldn't comment on Dr. Hawkes's teaching record, saying it was considered a personnel matter.
Dr. Hawkes, 65, grew up in Bath, N.B., and completed an undergraduate degree at Mount Allison University in 1972.
Kristen Loyst, spokeswoman for the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board in Nova Scotia, said records show that Dr. Hawkes was employed by the Kings County Amalgamated School Board from 1973 to 1976. "I don't have any other information to go on," she said.
He received a masters of divinity degree from the University of Toronto's Trinity College and became involved with the LGBT-friendly Metropolitan Community Church after moving to Toronto.
Dr. Hawkes first made headlines in the early 1980s, when he went on a hunger strike to force an inquiry into Toronto police raids of four bathhouses. During those raids, hundreds were arrested and allegations of excessive use of force surfaced.
In the continuing decades, he advocated for the rights of his LGBT parishioners, fighting to amend laws outlawing same-sex marriage, and, in 2001, officiated at what was later recognized as Canada's first legal gay marriage.
A decade later, in August, 2011, he officiated at the state funeral for Mr. Layton inside Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall, attended by about 1,700 invited guests and dignitaries.
On Monday, his church issued a statement saying Dr. Hawkes is a man of "high integrity and an inspirational community leader" and has "our steadfast support."
With reports from Michael Gorman and The Canadian Press