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FOUND NOT GUILTY – David Laxton, the former Speaker of the Yukon Legislative Assembly and the ex-Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre, was acquitted of a charge of sexual assault on Oct. 2.

Case generating debate about consent issue

A high-profile Yukon sexual assault case is raising discussion about consent and how the crime is defined under the law.

By Emily Blake on October 11, 2017

A high-profile Yukon sexual assault case is raising discussion about consent and how the crime is defined under the law.

For the past year, many Yukoners have been following an allegation of sexual assault against David Laxton, the former Speaker of the Yukon Legislative Assembly and the ex-Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre.

On Oct. 2, the now 61-year-old retiree was acquitted of the sexual assault charge for hugging and kissing a woman on the lips twice at the Yukon Government Main Administration Building in February 2016.

But the case, and Laxton’s lawyer’s comments outside the courthouse, are generating conversation about the larger issues involved.

Following the decision, Laxton’s lawyer, Andre Roothman, said he was “very, very happy with the outcome” but that he expects push back from “certain parts of the community”.

Reem Girgrah, the volunteer co-ordinator for Yukon Court Watch, said in an interview with the Star she was disappointed with the remark.

She said there should be open public discussion about cases that are dealing with people’s rights.

“I think my first reaction when I saw that was, ‘OK, he’s going to immediately discredit or give zero weight to any kind of argument that might come up or any kind of critique or analysis,’ ” she said.

“That to me is troubling because that tells me where he’s coming from, that hard line of ‘yeah there’s going to be push back but whatever.’ ”

For Girgrah, the biggest takeaway from Laxton’s case is the need to get consent.

“If you’re not actively seeking consent or know that it’s OK to do that, then you should ask or you’re going to end up in this scenario,” she said.

“This is the context we live in, and you have no entitlement to someone else’s body.”

During trial, Laxton admitted that he hugged and kissed the woman without getting her consent. But he said he was surprised by her sexual harassment allegation.

Laxton claimed the interaction wasn’t sexual in nature, and that’s just how he greets women he is friendly with.

Several of his female friends supported this claim in court testimony, but said they would find it odd if he kissed men.

Meanwhile, the woman said Laxton’s physical affection was inappropriate and unwanted. She claimed she was “shocked” by the incident, and that it triggered past trauma.

“The reality is it did affect her quite a bit,” Girgrah said.

“Why is it so hard to ask? Why is it so hard to say, ‘I’m a person who likes to give friends a kiss on the cheek or a kiss on the mouth or I tend to hug’?”

Girgrah said seeking consent can also include paying attention to body language and giving people the space to say no and respecting that response.

Roothman had flippantly remarked during trial that if Laxton were convicted, French, Italian and Portuguese immigrants would also have to be banned since kissing is a normal part of how they greet people.

But Girgrah said the two shouldn’t be conflated and that it detracts from the consent issue.

“A lot of the time, people that have differences in culture, they explain it before they even do anything, before they even touch, because people understand that culture is very different,” she said.

Girgrah also expressed concern about sexual assault myths and tropes that have come up in public responses to the case.

“We talk a lot about the negative social responses to sexualized assault, and this is one of those cases,” she said.

“People are questioning whether or not it actually happened, the severity of it, why doesn’t she get over it, he’s someone that’s being dragged through the mud, that women lie. There’s all these things that have bubbled up.”

The Crown prosecutor in the case, Amy Pourteous, had argued that not convicting Laxton would be like declaring “open season” on women.

Judge Jon Faulkner spoke to the issue in his decision, writing, “Anyone drawing such conclusions from the decision would be utterly and completely wrong.”

Girgrah, however, said it could make some women reluctant to report incidents of sexualized violence.

“I feel like it sends a message to women being like, ‘well, you’re going to have to think twice now about whether or not this is going to be considered something serious enough to bring to the legal system.’”

She added that she would like to see alternatives to the legal system to address different notions of justice when it comes to sexualized violence.

In his comments outside the courthouse, Roothman also expressed concern that a wide range of incidents are covered under the charge of sexual assault.

“I think what we see nowadays is the absurdity of having everything branded as a sexual assault from a touch ... to a full-scale brutal sexual assault,” he said.

Roothman also lamented changes to Canadian law more than three decades ago that replaced rape and indecent assault charges with sexual assault.

“If Mr. Laxton would’ve been convicted of sexual assault, without knowing the facts of the case, somebody accessing his criminal record could’ve understood that he brutally raped someone,” he said.

But there are three levels of sexual assault under the Canadian Criminal Code: sexual assault; sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm; and aggravated sexual assault.

And changes to the Criminal Code of Canada in 1983 were meant to emphasize the violent rather than sexual nature of the offence.

Legislation also clarified that men could be victims of sexual assault, more clearly defined consent and placed limitations on lawyers’ ability to bring up the past sexual history of victims.

Prior to the changes, victims were required to make complaints in a shorter time frame, conviction required corroboration by another person and spouses could not be convicted of rape.

The conversation around sexual assault and consent is especially relevant in the Yukon where police-reported data from 2009 to 2014 have shown the territory has the third-highest sexual assault rate in Canada.

At a rate of 204.8 per 100,000 population, this is more than three times the national average.

And across Canada, sexual assault is one of the few violent crime rates that has not declined over the past decade.

Research has also shown that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes.

In 2015, based on self-reported data, 83 per cent of sexual assault incidents were not reported to police across Canada.

Comments (11)

Up 9 Down 2

Just Sayin' on Oct 16, 2017 at 11:35 am

Yet, it is encouraged for kids to give hugs to people they hardly know when in the presence of their parents. Perhaps, we should charge these children for venomous acts and their parents as well. What about those people who give children, they hardly know kisses on the side of their cheeks? The solution is, if someone is doing something which gives you the icky icky feeling, you tell them to stop!

Up 17 Down 12

NeverCryWolf on Oct 14, 2017 at 12:28 pm

Groucho - could not agree more. " I was on Facebook for just an hour yesterday, and this creepy guy had the sheer temerity to look at my profile picture with a lascivious sneer. I swear he ogled it for, like, three minutes. I felt so violated and demeaned and sexually harassed . AND, that will just go down as one of the UNREPORTED ones." Solution ; get off the computer and get on with LIFE !

Up 14 Down 21

Jean-François Des Lauriers on Oct 14, 2017 at 7:56 am

I would ask all these offended men commenting above: "How would you feel if Laxton hugged and kissed you?".

Up 27 Down 7

Groucho d'North on Oct 13, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Many of us ageing hippies can recall when this was the normal way to behave among friends and acquaintances. I suggest we have lost our way socially, where we shun human contact such as an innocent kiss or a hug, yet brag about how many virtual friends we may have on Facebook. We are truly well seated in the Age of Digital Plastic. It's all about appearances and telegraphing how damn sensitive we are about so many things. We are drowning in our virtue by some measures.
Something I like to do up at the Games Centre is watch the parents as they direct their children's' behaviour in the social graces. Some are much better than others, and the fruit does not fall far from the tree.

Up 25 Down 15

notallmenarerapists on Oct 12, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Cut the Feminazi barrage. ( if a man accidentally brushes against a woman in a busy area where space is tight , that is NOT rape ) .

Up 17 Down 6

Dave on Oct 12, 2017 at 2:35 pm

I agree with both jc and Lost in the Yukons comments. What I wonder is where is the medium ground for someone who doesn't know what's not appropriate in today's age? My mother was a hugger and everyone she met got a hug, I would never dream of hugging strangers in greeting when meeting them but everyone seemed to recognize that she was a genuinely friendly lady from another age and amazingly I never saw one of her hugs get a negative reaction. I on the other hand would cringe inside when she gave someone she just met a hug.

Up 22 Down 21

insanity on Oct 12, 2017 at 1:32 pm

It's completely insane to me that women should have to put up with being kissed by whatever man that wants to, while if a man kissed another male on the lips without consent, how do you think that would go over? And if this woman were with a male partner at the time, do you think this guy would have kissed her? No, he would not have. This is about gender and power, no doubt about it.

Up 37 Down 11

June Jackson on Oct 12, 2017 at 12:01 am

Reem Girgrah.. yup.. and there's your push back. Turns out..it's you

"That to me is troubling because that tells me where he’s coming from, that hard line of ‘yeah there’s going to be push back but whatever.’ ” Gosh Reem, that's not what the comment told me..it told me that someone is always going to contest a ruling.. doesn't matter what it was.. if Mr. Laxton had been found guilty, THAT would have been contested.

Amy Pourteous thinks that Mr. Laxton's acquittal is going to cause an "open season on women?' Really?

Up 47 Down 12

jc on Oct 11, 2017 at 9:12 pm

Amy Pourtuous said, "not convicting Laxton is like declaring open season on women" What an irresponsible statement. And for a Prosecutor no less.

Up 41 Down 26

jc on Oct 11, 2017 at 9:09 pm

For goodness sake, its about time some women chilled out. Not everything is sexual abuse. "Suck it up, toughen up".

Up 34 Down 12

Lost in the Yukon on Oct 11, 2017 at 8:53 pm

Kissing acquaintances on the lips is just plain creepy. If he tried that on my wife she'd drop him in a nano second.

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