Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William has been charged with one count of sexual interference of a person under the age of 16.
The allegation, which came to light Wednesday in a news release issued by the B.C. Prosecution Service (BCPS), was addressed during a first court appearance on the matter Wednesday, Aug. 30 in Williams Lake Provincial Court.
When reached by the Tribune, William said “it has not been easy,” but that only his lawyer could speak to the media about the charge.
Long-time lawyer for the Chief and the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, David Rosenberg, said William is not guilty.
“I can say that Roger William will vigorously defend against the charge as he is innocent,” he said.
The offence is alleged to have occurred on or about May 12, 2017 in Williams Lake, stated the BCPS.
Vancouver lawyer Brock Martland who approved the charge against William was appointed Special Prosecutor for the case on Aug. 28, shortly after a report to Crown Counsel relating to the charge was received by the BCPS, stated the release.
“The appointment of a special prosecutor is intended to avoid any potential for real or perceived improper influence in the administration of justice,” the BCPS media statement noted. “He was given a mandate to provide legal advice to the RCMP investigators as may be necessary, conduct any related charge assessment and assume conduct of the prosecution if charges were approved.”
William was a just a young man when the precedent-setting William Rights and Title case, which bears his name, was launched more than 25 years ago.
At that time elders in the community recognized him as a leader, which he has been for most of his life.
The decision in 2014, which recognized Aboriginal rights and title, has since had far-reaching effects on First Nations’ territorial rights across the country.
Rosenberg said the personal case William faces now could take many months or even years to resolve.
It takes a lifetime to build a “great” reputation like Chief Roger William has and all it takes is one allegation to destroy it, Rosenberg said.
For the last 25 years, Rosenberg has been the lead counsel for the Tsilhqot’in rights and title case.
“I took the title case to the Supreme Court of Canada and argued it there so I was the lawyer for the Tsilhqot’in Nation in that matter,” Rosenberg said.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, sexual interference is described as a every person who, for a sexual purpose, touches, directly or indirectly, with a part of the body or with an object, any part of the body of a person under the age of 16 years.
William’s next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 20 in Williams Lake Provincial Court.