WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.
The trial of prominent Indigenous leader and former B.C. cabinet minister Ed John began Monday in B.C. Supreme Court in Prince George with emotional testimony from the alleged victim in front of a small gallery of onlookers.
John, 73, is charged with four counts of having sexual intercourse with a female without consent, a charge that existed in the Criminal Code of Canada when the alleged offences took place in 1974. There have been a number of revisions to the code since then, and the charge no longer exists under the current code.
The alleged victim testified Monday that the sexual assaults began when she was 13 years old and an employee of John's, who was 25 at the time and a recent graduate of the University of Victoria. He was the director of the Doh Day De Claa Friendship Centre in Prince George and she was employed to help with youth programming.
"He was a hero in my eyes," she said about John.
She told the court she was aware he was a university graduate and believed he was either a lawyer already, or was heading to law school.
Defence lawyers claim the encounters were consensual and questioned the witness's timeline of events. They attempted to throw doubt on her recollections 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 Monday, wearing a plain black suit.
The witness's story did not change throughout 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 offences occurred 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 spots along Highway 16.
The first assault allegedly took place in the front seat of his Volkswagen Beetle.
The second assault allegedly occurred on the grounds of the former Lejac Residential School, where both John and the witness were forced to attend, though they were not students there at the same time.
The witness claimed she was afraid to resist his assaults because he was her boss and her only ride back to Prince George.
"I did what he asked me to do ... If I said no, then what?" she said when defence lawyer Tony Paisana asked why she didn't fight back. "Would he have left me there for the bears?"
The alleged victim testified that the offences all occurred over the spring and summer of 1974 in the area of Prince George. But John's lawyers suggest the encounters happened 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 B.C. cabinet as minister for children and families from November 2000 to June 2001. He is a prominent Indigenous leader and lawyer who has advised the First Nations Summit and helped craft the Charlottetown Accord as well as the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).
The trial will continue this week.
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.