WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone who has.
The trial of prominent Indigenous leader and former British Columbia Cabinet Minister Ed John began Monday in the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Prince George with moving testimony from the alleged victim before a small gallery of spectators.
John, 73, is charged with four counts of having sex with a woman without her consent, a charge that existed in the Criminal Code of Canada when the alleged offenses took place in 1974. There are had a number of revisions to the code since then. , and the load no longer exists under the current code.
The alleged victim testified on Monday that the sexual assaults began when she was 13 and an employee of John’s, who was 25 at the time and a recent graduate of the University of Victoria. He was director of the Doh Day De Claa Friendship Center in Prince George and she was employed to help with youth programming.
“He was a hero in my eyes,” she said of John.
She told the court that she knew he was a college graduate and believed he was already a lawyer or headed to law school.
Defense attorneys say the meetings were consensual and questioned the witness’ timeline of events. They attempted to cast doubt on her recollection by pointing out inconsistencies in her description of John’s hair at the time and past statements made to police.
John sat in the courtroom on Monday wearing a plain black suit.
The witness’s story did not change throughout the cross-examination.
She testified that John assaulted her twice in his office at the Doh Day De Claa Friendship Centre.
She alleges the other two offenses took place west of Prince George when John claimed to be driving her to a youth conference. She says they never made it to the conference. Instead, he assaulted her twice in remote locations along Highway 16.
The first assault allegedly took place in the front seat of his Volkswagen Beetle.
The second attack allegedly took place on the grounds of the former Lejac boarding school, where John and the witness were forced to report, even though they were not students there at the same time.
The witness said she was afraid to stand up to his attacks because he was her boss and her only comeback in Prince George.
“I did what he asked me to do… If I said no, then what?” she says when defense attorney Tony Paisana asked why she hadn’t fired back. “Would he have left me here for the bears?”
The alleged victim testified that the offenses all occurred during the spring and summer of 1974 in the Prince George area. But John’s lawyers suggest the encounters took place the following summer, when the alleged victim would have been 14.
John is the Hereditary Chief of the Tl’azt’en Nation and was appointed to the BC Cabinet as Minister of Children and Families from November 2000 to June 2001. He is a prominent Aboriginal leader and lawyer who advised the First Nations Summit and helped develop the Charlottetown Accord as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
The trial will continue this week.
Support is available for anyone who has experienced sexual assault. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Canadian Association for the Elimination of Violence Database. If you are in immediate danger or fear for your safety or the safety of those around you, please call 911.