Alexander First Nation chief Kurt Burnstick was acquitted of sexual assault in a St. Albert court Wednesday.
Although Justice Clifton Purvis said he did not believe the accused's testimony, he said the evidence presented by the Crown was simply insufficient to convict.
Burnstick was charged with one count of sexual assault last March.
Two witnesses spoke in the courtroom Wednesday: the complainant and the accused. They both shared different versions of an incident that occurred Oct. 28, 2015 in chief Burnstick's office.
According to the complainant, Burnstick asked her to meet in his office. When she arrived, Burnstick was sitting behind his desk with his hand to his forehead. He asked the complainant for a hug and she obliged thinking he was upset.
After the hug, Burnstick allegedly sat down and grabbed the complainant’s hands to pull her closer to him. She said he then grabbed her butt and slapped it a few times without consent.
During her testimony, the complainant alleged Burnstick harassed her for years, incessantly texting her and suggesting going away for the weekend to “relax.” She believed this to mean he wanted sex and she said she ignored his advances.
Burnstick, who took the stand in his defence, said the complainant initiated the interaction on Oct. 28, 2015. She asked if they could talk. He testified that a hug did occur in his office, but that he did not grab, slap or tap the complainant's butt.
He also testified that the texts sent to the complainant were due to his concern for her well-being. Burnstick said as a friend and chief of the First Nation, he was looking out for her because he knew she had financial difficulties.
Burnstick sat shoulder to shoulder in the courtroom with his wife Marsha Burnstick, whom he married in 2014.
He began to cry at the end of the trial and declined to comment at that time.
When announcing his decision, Purvis told the court that although it was clear, based on the volume, frequency and nature of his text messages, that Burnstick was trying to pursue a relationship with the complainant, sexual or otherwise, he questioned the reliability of the Crown’s evidence.
The complainant omitted certain details of her testimony when initially filing her statement in January 2016. She failed to tell the RCMP that Burnstick had grabbed her hands and slapped her butt.
When asked why her testimony differed from her statement, the complainant told the court that she could not recall the exact sequence of events until she underwent trauma therapy.
“While I think he’s probably guilty, that’s not good enough,” said Purvis, in his decision.
Burnstick was acquitted of one count of sexual assault. He faces another two sexual assault charges and a break and enter charge in relation to an incident more than 30 years ago.
The first count of sexual assault allegedly was between July 1 and Aug. 30, 1985. The second count of sexual assault allegedly was between Sept. 1 and Sept. 30, 1985; the same date as the break and enter.
He is expected to enter a plea on these charges in the Morinville Provincial Court on Jan. 20.
Burnstick has two prior convictions. He was found guilty of making false statements to the authorities in 1998 and was sentenced to one year probation and received a $150 fine from the Morinville Provincial Court. Prior to that, he was convicted of dangerous driving in 1997.
In 1996, a peace bond was ordered against him following a disagreement with his then wife.