Former Yukon Speaker and Porter Creek Centre MLA David Laxton speaks to the media outside the Whitehorse court house after being found not guilty of sexual assault. (Jesse Winter/Yukon News)

Former Yukon Speaker David Laxton found not guilty of sexual assault

Case hinged on whether kisses constitute sexual assault

A judge has found former Yukon Speaker and Porter Creek Centre MLA David Laxton not guilty of sexual assault for kissing a woman in the Yukon Legislative Assembly building in 2016.

Yukon Territorial Court Justice John Faulkner delivered his verdict Oct. 2, about two months after a two-day-long trial in Whitehorse.

About a half-dozen of Laxton’s friends and family members were in the courtroom Monday, some of whom gasped as Faulkner read his verdict. Several shook Laxton’s hand and patted his shoulder afterwards before he and his wife, Leslie Goring, shared a long hug while standing between the wooden benches.

The complainant, Michelle Stimson, was also in the gallery for the verdict. She sat next to the door and left almost immediately after Faulkner declared Laxton not guilty.

The verdict marks the closing of the latest chapter in a controversial case that stemmed from an incident in February 2016, when, following an informal meeting at his office in the Legislative Assembly building, Laxton hugged and kissed Stimson twice. Whether the kisses happened was not in dispute — at the centre of the trial was whether they constituted sexual assault.

Stimson, who waived her right to a publication ban on her name and previously gave the News permission to publish it, testified during the trial that she had gone to Laxton’s office to talk about what she thought was a job opportunity but that Laxton spent most of the meeting talking about his personal life. As they were parting ways, Stimson testified, Laxton gave her two unwanted kisses and “bear hugs,” one in his office and one in a public area of the building.

Laxton, on the other hand, testified that it Stimson who had talked for most of the meeting, and that each kiss had been nothing more than a “quick peck” and part of his normal routine for saying goodbye to women friends and acquaintances. He added that he had been caught off-guard by Stimson’s allegations and has since become a “pariah,” forced to resign from his political position and shunned by former friends and political allies when the allegations emerged.

In his written reasonings, Faulkner said he found Stimson to be an “argumentative witness” who was “exceedingly reluctant to concede any point she thought might detract from her view of the incident.” In particular, Faulkner pointed out that Stimson had testified she’d gone into the meeting with “high hopes” that she would be offered a government job but left when she realized that wouldn’t be happening.

“It was perfectly clear from this that the complainant was disappointed at how the meeting had gone,” Faulkner wrote. “Yet, in cross-examination, she repeatedly denied being disappointed. A reasonable witness would have conceded the point and moved on.”

Faulkner also found several of Stimson’s other statements “unlikely,” “too much of a stretch” or “less than entirely credible,” including assertions that she’d never had any previous physical contact with Laxton, that the conversation in Laxton’s office contained sexual overtones and that a portion of her statement to the RCMP was missing.

“In sum, while I believe substantial portions of the complainant’s testimony, I remain cautious about accepting it totally,” Faulkner wrote.

Laxton’s testimony, however, was “quite credible,” Faulkner wrote, describing his recollection of the meeting with Stimson as “a more detailed and logical account.” Laxton’s claim that he and Stimson had had previous friendly, physical contact also “found significant support” in witnesses called by the defence, the judge added.

“I find that there was nothing in the conversation at any point, before, during or after these acts that was suggestive of a desire on the part of (Laxton) to become romantically involved with (Stimson),” Faulkner wrote.

“There remains doubt that what Mr. Laxton did amounted to a sexual assault. This being a criminal prosecution where the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, Mr. Laxton is entitled to the benefit of that doubt.”

Faulkner also found Laxton not guilty of common assault, a charge the Crown had asked the judge to consider should the grounds for sexual assault not be met. He dismissed Crown attorney Amy Porteous’s assertion during the trial that the court would be declaring “open season” on women should Laxton not be convicted of common assault, writing that “anyone drawing such conclusions from this decision would be utterly and completely wrong.”

Reading from a written statement following the verdict, Laxton told reporters outside the courthouse that he was thankful for the “support and respect” he’d received from friends, family and the “Yukon community at large” during the trial.

“It has been very difficult for my wife Leslie, and she has not faltered. Together, we have persevered through this ordeal,” he said.

Laxton also thanked his legal team and declined to answer any questions, referring any further comment to his lawyer Andre Roothman.

Roothman, for his part, told reporters he was “very, very happy with the outcome” on what he said was a “very difficult case” that was “traumatic” for Laxton. He was also critical of what he described as the “absurdity” in Canadian law where a charge of sexual assault covers everything from “a touch … to a full-scale, brutal sexual assault.”

“If Mr. Laxton would have been convicted of sexual assault … somebody accessing his criminal record could have understood that he brutally raped someone without the details being disclosed, and that’s the problem I have with the system as it is,” he said.

“I just have a problem with branding everything by the same term.”

Contact Jackie Hong at

sexual assaultYukon courts

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Liberal leader Sandy Silver speaks outside his campaign headquarters in Dawson City following early poll results on April 12. (Robin Sharp/Yukon News)
BREAKING: Minority government results will wait on tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin

The Yukon Party and the Liberal Party currently have secured the same amount of seats

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: The Neapolitan election

Do you remember those old bricks of Neapolitan ice cream from birthday… Continue reading

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Exposure notice issued for April 3 Air North flight

Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley has issued another… Continue reading

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Runners in the Yukon Arctic Ultra marathon race down the Yukon River near the Marwell industrial area in Whitehorse on Feb. 3, 2019.
Cold-weather exercise hard on the lungs

Amy Kenny Special to the Yukon News It might make you feel… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
This week at city hall

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.

Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Most Read