Xeni Gwet’in chief Jimmy Lulua (left) with former chief Roger William (right) and his wife Shannon Stump (centre) Tuesday afternoon after William was acquitted of a charge of sexual interference of a person under the age of 16. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

VIDEO: Former B.C. First Nations chief acquitted of sexual interference

Former Xeni Gwet’in chief Roger William said he’s relieved to have his name cleared

Former B.C. First Nations chief and current Cariboo Regional District director Roger William has been acquitted of a charge of sexual interference of a person under the age of 16 after a two-day trial in Williams Lake Provincial Court which ended Tuesday.

William, 53, was facing the charge in connection with an allegation said to have occurred on May 12, 2017.

Outside the courthouse William said he was very relieved about the verdict.

“It has been a long journey,” he told the Tribune. “I was worried about my family, my children, my people, my nation. This is bigger than me. I’ve been a big part of the Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal Title Win in 2014 and to be in this, it’s been so tough.”

Related: Tsilhqot’in celebrate rights and title anniversary

William said he was still thinking about the complainant.

“She is having a tough time and she was a bright young lady. I’m not to sure why she did what she did and said what she said, but I’m so happy for the decision.”

The trial began Monday and saw the complainant testify by closed-circuit television from another room. William defended himself and his wife, Shannon Stump, also appeared as a witness for the defense.

In reading out her decision Tuesday afternoon, Justice Jodie Werier said it would be unsafe for her to convict William.

“He adamantly denied sexual touching,” Werier said of William’s testimony. “I find it would be unsafe for me to file a conviction based on the evidence of the complainant.”

Werier said the complainant’s description of the alleged sexual touching on the upper thigh and inner thigh at the movie theatre and again later that evening lacked detail and the detail that was provided was unacceptable to rely on.

When asked if the alleged touching by William on the complainant’s chest went on for a long time or one movement, the complainant could not remember, Werier added.

Defense lawyer David Rosenberg, who has represented William through the rights and title cases, said he was not surprised by the outcome.

“Roger’s waited a long time to be vindicated and this day has been a long-time coming,” Rosenberg said. “I’m glad to see the system works and justice was done in this circumstance.”

Rosenberg said it takes a lifetime to build up a reputation such as William has and all it takes is for an allegation to destroy all that.

“I’m glad he’s been vindicated and I’m hopeful he will get on with his life in a very constructive way.”

When William was charged, the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG) announced he was being relieved of his duties with the TNG awaiting the outcome of the judicial process. William has, however, continued to represent Area J/West Chilcotin throughout the process.

Related: B.C Supreme Court clears path for Taseko Mines Ltd. to start exploratory drilling in Teztan Biny area

William remained on as chief of Xeni Gwet’in First Nation until February 2018, but lost the election for chief to Jimmy Lulua, who was on hand for the verdict.

There is a publication ban on any details that could identify the complainant.

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