VANCOUVER — A British Columbia Indigenous leader and outspoken advocate for children is facing sex-related charges dating back more than 40 years.
The B.C. Prosecution Service says Ed John, a former leader of the First Nations Summit and former B.C. cabinet minister, is accused of having sexual intercourse with a female without her consent in 1974.
The service says in a statement released Thursday that special prosecutor Michael Klein was appointed in February to look into allegations of sexual offences in and around Prince George involving one person.
Klein has approved four counts against John for incidents are alleged to have occurred between March 1 and Sept. 15, 1974, it says. His first court appearance is set for Dec. 10 in Prince George.
John could not immediately be reached for comment.
The service says it delayed announcing the appointment of the special prosecutor pending the completion of the charge assessment and approval of charges.
“Following consultation with the special prosecutor and considering the specific circumstances of the case, the (service) concluded that issuing a media statement announcing the appointment was appropriate at this time,” the statement says.
John is a hereditary chief of Tl’azt’en Nation in northern B.C. and a lawyer who holds honorary doctor of laws degrees from the University of Northern British Columbia and the University of Victoria.
John completed his eleventh consecutive term as an elected leader of the First Nations Summit’s political executive in June. He did not seek re-election but continued as an advisor on contract with the organization, one of the largest Indigenous organizations in the province.
The First Nations Summit declined to comment but issued a statement saying it will fully co-operate with the RCMP, prosecution service or other investigating bodies.
It has suspended John’s contract pending the outcome of the legal case.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he was still processing the news Thursday.
“Needless to say, it’s shocking. Without question these are very serious allegations with enormous ramifications,” he said, adding that he wasn’t prepared to comment further.
John has been a prominent advocate for Indigenous rights both in Canada and internationally, serving for five years as a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
His biography says he was involved in the development of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007 and implemented by the British Columbia government just last month.
In 2015, then-premier Christy Clark appointed John as special advisor on Indigenous children in care.
The report he submitted one year later contained 85 recommendations to overhaul B.C.’s Indigenous child welfare system, with a focus on improving outcomes for children and youth by changing the focus from intervention and separation to strengthening families.
John had intimate knowledge of the file, having served a brief stint as minister of children and families under a former NDP government. Then-premier Ujjal Dosanjh appointed him to the post in 2000, making him the province’s 15th unelected cabinet minister until the New Democrats lost the election in 2001.
In 2012, John wept during a Truth and Reconciliation hearing in Victoria, saying the stories he heard while the commission was in Inuvik, N.W.T., tore open wounds he never realized were there.
He grew up near Prince George and spent seven years at the Roman Catholic Lejac Residential School at Fraser Lake. Three boys ran away once and their frozen bodies were found nearby, he said.
John said the burden of the residential school system is having to come to terms with being part of a government and church system that was designed to erase Indigenous culture, spirit and way of life.
“That is why this is a mixed-up place for many of us, this place we have to talk about,” he said.
“We were supposed to kill our languages, our cultures. We were that vehicle for which this was supposed to happen. That’s the burden we have to bear. It was through us that our languages were denied. But we were children and we didn’t know.”
He said residential school survivors are living evidence of a system designed to assimilate Indigenous Peoples.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2019.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press