The Canadian Press
VICTORIA – A First Nation chief in British Columbia is facing a charge of sexual interference of a person under the age of 16.
The province’s prosecution service says Roger William of the Xeni Gwet’in is alleged to have committed the offence in Williams Lake, B.C., on or about May 12 and was scheduled to make his first court appearance on Wednesday.
It says special prosecutor Brock Martland approved the charge after he was appointed on Monday because the assistant deputy attorney general considered the matter in the public interest.
William declined comment but referred questions to his lawyer, David Rosenberg.
He described William as a “tremendous leader and devoted community member” who was “greatly saddened” when he heard the accusation.
“Roger is going to vehemently defend against these charges,” Rosenberg said in an interview. “It takes a lifetime of good work to build a reputation like his, and it just takes one unfounded allegation to destroy it.”
William, a former champion bull rider, was a leading figure in a Supreme Court of Canada decision that granted the Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal title to more than 1,750 square kilometres of land in the Nemiah Valley, a mountainous area with pristine lakes, alpine valleys and wild horses.
The decision in 2014 was the first time a Canadian court declared Aboriginal title to lands outside of a reserve.
The Xeni Gwet’in First Nation is one of six Tsilhqot’in communities.
The band’s website says William was first elected for a five-year term in 2013.
The prosecution service says the appointment of a special prosecutor is intended to avoid any potential for real or perceived improper influence in the administration of justice.
Martland is a Vancouver lawyer in private practice and the prosecution service says his mandate was to provide legal advice to RCMP investigators as necessary, and conduct any related charge assessment as well as the prosecution if charges were approved.
The prosecution service says it postponed announcing his appointment pending completion of the investigation and approval of charges.