June 21, 2020 by Whitehorse Daily Star
David Laxton, the former Porter Creek Centre MLA and Speaker of the Yukon legislature, has been acquitted of a sexual assault charge.
Judge John Faulkner issued the decision Monday afternoon in territorial court in Whitehorse on the eve of the fall sitting of the legislature.
He found that it was not sexual assault when Laxton hugged and kissed a woman at the Yukon legislative assembly building in 2016.
Outside the courtroom following the decision, Laxton read a statement thanking his wife, Leslie, friends, family and community members for their support.
His defence lawyer, Andre Roothman, also said he was “very, very happy with the outcome” but that he expects push back from “certain parts of the community.”
Allegations of sexual harassment surfaced in May 2016 when Laxton unexpectedly resigned his role as Speaker. He also left the then-governing Yukon Party caucus to sit as an independent MLA, and did not contest last November’s election.
Laxton claimed in court he was “bullied” and “threatened” into the decision, and that he became a “pariah” after the complaint was made.
During trial, the 61-year-old retiree admitted that he hugged and kissed a woman twice on the lips at the Yukon Government Main Administration Building during office hours that February.
But he denied that the incident was sexual, saying that’s just how he greets women he is friendly with.
Roothman had argued that to infer sexual gratification from the greeting would “really be stretching it.”
The complainant, however, said the contact was inappropriate and unwanted.
She testified she was “shocked” when Laxton hugged and kissed her at a meeting she believed would be about employment, and that it triggered past trauma.
“His actions made me feel like he was above it, above me, above any kind of standard of respect,” she testified.
Crown prosecutor Amy Pourteous had argued the incident constituted a sexual assault. She had noted that all people have the right to not be kissed if they don’t want to be.
“The fact that he may walk around kissing women doesn’t make it any less assaulting,” Pourteous said.
In his written decision, Faulkner said there have been a number of cases where the court has had to consider whether an unwanted hug or kiss constituted sexual assault.
Decisions have gone both ways, he noted, depending on the surrounding circumstances.
“The context may be overtly sexual at one end of the spectrum or entirely familial at the other,” he wrote.
In this case, Faulkner said that while what Laxton did was “unwise, even foolish, especially for a man in his position,” his actions did not amount to sexual assault.
Faulkner also dismissed claims that Laxton’s motives were sexual or that there had been any sexual innuendo during the meeting leading up to the hugs and kisses.
“While the accused could have impulsively decided to sexually assault the complainant, if he had hoped something amorous would come out of inviting the complainant to meet him, he would likely have chosen a venue other than his office in the legislature,” he wrote.
And the judge noted that while the physical contact in the case was undisputed, there was “considerable disagreement” regarding the circumstances leading up to it.
Laxton testified that he had first met the woman around 2001, when she was a waitress at Panda’s, a restaurant in downtown Whitehorse that closed in 2006.
He said while they had seen little of each other over the past decade, he believed they were still friends.
Laxton also claimed that he had hugged and kissed the woman on numerous occasions, and characterized their relationship as flirtatious.
But she testified there has never been any physical contact between them and that she isn’t comfortable with this type of affection.
Faulkner preferred Laxton’s testimony, finding it to be “quite credible.”
He also found that Laxton’s explanation that the affection was demonstrative of his support for the positive changes the woman had discussed making “could reasonably be true.”
Laxton was additionally acquitted of the included offence of common assault.
Faulkner said that based on the pair’s history and Laxton’s “proclivity for kissing female friends” that Laxton had “honestly but mistakenly believed he had consent.”
The judge noted, however, that this would not be a defence to sexual assault.
During closing arguments at trial, Pourteous had said, “Assuming women are walking around in a perpetual state of consent is offensive and inaccurate under the law.”
She also argued that not convicting Laxton of sexual assault or the included offence would be declaring “open season” on women.
In his written decision, Faulkner said, “Anyone drawing such conclusions from this decision would be utterly and completely wrong.”
This article was first published on Whitehorse Daily Star.
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