David Laxton doesn’t dispute that he hugged and kissed a woman twice on the lips when she met with him at the Yukon government administrative building in February 2016.
But the former Speaker of the Yukon legislature denies that the incident was sexual, and says that’s just how he greets women he is friendly with.
That’s what Yukon territorial court heard Tuesday morning as Laxton testified in his own defence against one charge of sexual assault.
But on Monday, the woman, who the Star is not identifying though there is no publication ban, testified she was “shocked” when Laxton gave her a bear hug and a brief peck on the lips.
She said the physical contact was unwanted and inappropriate.
Judge John Faulkner is expected to make a decision in the case on the afternoon of Oct. 2, one day before the fall sitting of the Yukon
legislature is set to commence.
He will determine whether Laxton’s actions constitute sexual assault under the law.
Laxton, now a 61-year-old retiree, testified he first met the woman around 2001, when she was a waitress at Pandas, a restaurant downtown where he often went for lunch.
They also frequented some of the same bars. He said they developed a casual friendship where they would flirt back and forth when they saw
Pandas closed in 2006, and Laxton said as he became involved in politics, they saw each other less and less.
Over the past decade, the pair have had little contact other than running into one another around Whitehorse.
“I thought our friendship was still in existence up until May 9, when it came to a shuddering halt and my life fell apart,” Laxton testified. He was referencing a sexual harassment complaint that was made following their meeting.
In May 2016, Laxton abruptly stepped down from his position as Speaker and left the Yukon Party caucus to sit as an independent.
“I was bullied into it,” he testified Tuesday. “In fact, I was threatened.”
In February 2016, Laxton ran into the woman when he was paying for groceries at her till at the Independent Grocer.
“I was tickled to see her; it had been a while,” he testified.
The woman told him she was quitting her job because she didn’t like how the union was handling a sexual harassment complaint.
Laxton said he told her, “If you think there’s anything I can do to help you, here’s my card, or come and see me,” and gave her his business
But the woman testified that he said, “I have something for you.” She believed he was referencing an available government job.
Sometime later, she scheduled an appointment with Laxton at his office at the main administrative building on Second Ave.
Laxton testified that he wasn’t sure what the woman wanted to meet about.
He said when she arrived at his office, she began asking questions about his job as a Yukon Party MLA and Speaker.
People often visited him just to talk, he said, and few people are knowledgeable about the role of the Speaker.
The woman testified Monday that she found it odd that Laxton spoke about his personal life for nearly two hours, and began questioning why he had invited her to contact him.
Laxton showed the woman the legislature, spoke about his wife, Leslie, and asked about her life and kids.
She told him that she had stopped drinking and was studying criminology.
The conversation eventually turned to employment.
Laxton invited Helen Fitzimmons, the director of administration, finance and systems for the legislative assembly, into his office to look at the woman’s résumé. He went on his computer to look up the government jobs website.
Laxton said the woman was not interested in an available position that he suggested. And Fitzsimmons offered help with her résumé, as it did
not have enough information.
The office door was partially closed, and Laxton and the woman were alone when the meeting ended.
Laxton said he told the woman he was happy with the changes she had made in her life and gave her a hug and a quick peck on the lips for “a
fraction of a second.”
The pair left the office and walked down a hallway together. When they reached the public foyer, Laxton gave the woman a second hug and kiss on the mouth.
He testified that on previous occasions, he has kissed his wife and close friend Bonita Tarr in the workplace.
Tarr testified about Laxton’s affectionate nature. She noted that he always hugs and kisses female friends on the lips.
She said he will also hug men, but added she would find it odd if he kissed them.
Laxton’s long-time friend Marjorie Eschak also testified by phone.
She said she was disappointed by the allegations against him.
“When you see Dave, you expect a hug and a kiss,” Eschak said.
On Monday, the complainant testified that there was never any physical contact between her and Laxton prior to their meeting.
She said the unwanted hug and kiss triggered trauma from her having been sexually abused by her father when she was a child.
“His actions made me feel like he was above it, above me, above any kind of standard respect,” she said of Laxton.
Defence attorney André Roothman argued that Laxton should be acquitted of the charge.
To infer sexual gratification from the greeting, Roothman said, would “really be stretching it.”
He noted that the woman waited several months before reporting the incident.
She made no effort to object or get away from Laxton after the first time he hugged and kissed her, Roothman added.
But Crown prosecutor Amy Porteous argued that the woman was in shock.
Porteous said it was logical for her to stay with Laxton, as she didn’t know her way around the administrative building.
She added that many people don’t report sexual assaults immediately after they happen.
Porteous noted that while not all hugs and kisses are sexual, the pair had barely seen each other in 10 years, and the physical contact came
after a bizarre meeting where personal information was shared.
Porteous added that the physical contact was inappropriate in the workplace after discussing employment.
“The legislative assembly is not the set of Mad Men.”
As well, Porteous noted that all people have the right not to be kissed if they don’t want to be.
“Assuming women are walking around in a perpetual state of consent is offensive and inaccurate under the law,” Porteous said.
She added, “The fact that he may walk around kissing women doesn’t make it any less assaulting.”
After spending the second half of 2016 sitting as an independent MLA, Laxton opted not to seek to retain his Porter Creek Centre seat in last
November’s territorial election.