Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Emily Blake

Left: ANTICIPATES DISAGREEMENT – Whitehorse lawyer Andre Roothman, who defended former MLA David Laxton in the court case, said he expects push back from some parts of the community following Monday’s decision. Right: EX-POLITICIAN FOUND NOT GUILTY – Former Yukon Party MLA David Laxton, who was the Speaker of the territorial legislature from 2011 to 2016, discusses the outcome of the court case Monday afternoon outside the Whitehorse courthouse.

Acquitted ex-Speaker thanks his family, friends

David Laxton, the former Porter Creek Centre MLA and Speaker of the Yukon legislature, has been acquitted of a sexual assault charge.

By Emily Blake on October 3, 2017

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.

Depending on circumstances

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.” 

Comments (11)

Up 23 Down 8

Hold on here on Oct 5, 2017 at 5:53 am

I've known and greeted female friends for 50 to 60 years and I don't kiss any of them on the lips when greeting. We hug and there may be a brief kiss motion to the side of the head or high cheek bone no smooch stealing.
As a matter of interest I think we should all watch the next ten greetings of friends that we see and count how many are kisses on the lips. Sexual assault ---no-- but an invited liberty--yes---.

Up 38 Down 8

north_of_60 on Oct 4, 2017 at 5:04 pm

This incident was not 'sexual assault' by any stretch of the imagination. It's good to see the justice system exercising some common sense instead of political correctness for a change.

Up 62 Down 7

good decision on Oct 4, 2017 at 11:28 am

I don't know why Mr. Roothman expects 'pushback'. I think it was the right decision and I am a woman. Not that this gives me some superior status on the situation, but for what it's worth. In my experience, unwanted 'sexual assault' gestures are not friendly but are aggressive and mean spirited. The guy is trying to put you down. He is laughing at you, trying to set you off balance, showing you that you supposedly can't do anything about it. He is doing what he wants to get off sexually with zero concern for you or your wishes or well being. I didn't see any of this with the situation with David Laxton and the woman who had him charged. Maybe Laxton does like to get up close and personal with women and takes too many liberties in that regard. Fair enough. But it doesn't constitute a criminal conviction for sexual assault. A difference of degree ... well maybe, but it could honestly be a difference of culture and I think we seriously have to avoid ruining lives over simple bad judgement that didn't cause any objective harm. Even if her personal history meant it pushed her buttons and triggered her, it still doesn't make him guilty of sexual assault.

Up 48 Down 8

Max Mack on Oct 4, 2017 at 10:41 am

Can't say I disagree with the decision, but also can't help but wonder if a no-name nobody would have been quickly convicted, their lives destroyed through media shaming, with their DNA added to the sexual offender database.

Up 57 Down 5

Lennie on Oct 4, 2017 at 10:06 am

Thank you for a Judge with some life experience and common sense. Although I have not seen the police investigation report, I tend to think it may not have been very strong. Appears to me to be a case of a junior prosecutor assigned a case weakly investigated with the attitude "we have a complaint - let the Judge decide." The whole judicial system except for the Judge simply caved in in fear of local vocal groups banging pots and pans and using articles of clothing as their flag. They have succeeded in nearly destroying a man. The next step in this miscarriage of justice I expect will be an attempt to appeal. This type of justice is bankrupting society.

Up 59 Down 7

jc on Oct 3, 2017 at 9:36 pm

Will the day come when high fives and fist bumps be considered sexually inappropriate? it now appears, anything is possible. But I believe in this case anyway, the Judge made a good and wise decision.

Up 51 Down 7

drum on Oct 3, 2017 at 8:53 pm

Thank goodness - I worked with this man. His family and his career have been so so hurt because of a sexual harassment complaint.

Up 49 Down 9

June Jackson on Oct 3, 2017 at 6:12 pm

I am a female.. albeit an old one, and in my day, (77 now) a kiss on the cheek or lips was the way folks greeted each other.. That she felt “His actions made me feel like he was above it, above me, above any kind of standard of respect,” she testified." Well..she shoulda told him that.. No sympathy from me on this one..

Up 59 Down 11

yukoner72 on Oct 3, 2017 at 5:25 pm

The feminist special interest groups will be upset by this ruling because it does not fit their agenda. Many men's lives have been destroyed by false allegations of assault. As soon as an allegation of assault is made by a woman the justice system kicks into high gear and runs with it. It is time that the gender based justice system allowed for some fairness. Luckily for Mr. Laxton the judge made a fair ruling rather than a "politically correct" ruling.

Up 85 Down 15

Just Sayin' on Oct 3, 2017 at 3:51 pm

I learned this in grade one. If someone touches you and you get an iky feeling and do not like it, you say 'NO'. If Mr. Laxton is to be held accountable for his action than Ms. Stintson should be held accountable for her lack of reaction. Obviously, if one does not set their boundaries than one is allowing it. FYI I am female.
I am sure the estrogen lynch mobs around will be stating how justice was not served.

Up 91 Down 12

Just Say'in on Oct 3, 2017 at 3:38 pm

"Boy oh Boy" don't go to Europe then. Complete strangers kiss each other all the time over there. Win a Trophy at the Tour De France and you get two kisses at once wether you want them or not. People really have to lighten up.

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