A high-profile gay rights activist and member of the Order of Canada is at the centre of a decades-old sexual assault case.

Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes, 65, has been the senior pastor at a church in Toronto since the late 1970s, but is facing charges from his time in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley 40 years ago.

According to court documents, the allegations date back to between Aug. 1, 1974 and Dec. 31, 1975 at, or near, Greenwood, N.S.

Hawkes is accused of indecent assault and gross indecency. He was charged in January.

“The subject matter of them is sexual contact with the boy and during the time when Mr. Hawkes would've been an adult and the complainant would have been a minor,” said Crown prosecutor Bob Morrison.

Morrison says Hawkes was a teacher in Kings County during that time, but cannot say if there was a teacher-student connection.

“The complainant contacted the police where he was living,” said Morrison. “He's no longer a resident here in Nova Scotia, but he contacted the police to give a statement.”

Morrison says the matter was referred to local RCMP and the investigation began.      

In a statement, Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes says, “I want to be crystal clear: I am innocent of these allegations. The purported events simply did not take place.”

“While it is impossible for me to understand where these almost 40 year old accusations come from, I have a faith that will sustain me as well as faith in Canada's justice system.”

Hawke’s lawyer Clayton Ruby of Toronto says he has known Hawkes for more than a quarter century and believes him completely.

“I am confident that Brent will be vindicated, found innocent and that his 38 years of commitment to human rights and progressive Christianity will remain unblemished," said Ruby.

The matter went to court in Kentville for the first time on Monday. Hawkes was represented by a lawyer out of a Halifax law firm that's assisting Ruby.   

It has been adjourned until April so lawyers can go over evidence.

"For 38 years, I have fought, with all that I have, for equality for my community,” said Hawkes.  “I have fought to give voice to those without voice. Now I will fight, with all that I have, these accusations. This time, however, my fight will be different; this time I will allow others to give voice for me."

Election and plea is set for April 13.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Jacqueline Foster.