VANCOUVER – Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh says he was shocked to learn one of the cabinet ministers from his government has been accused of historical sexual offences dating back decades.

The B.C. Prosecution Service announced Thursday that Edward John, a hereditary chief of the Tl'azt'en First Nation in the Prince George area, has been charged with four counts of sexual assault dating back to 1974.

John was the minister of children and families under Dosanjh from 2000 until the 2001 election, when he was defeated alongside all but two NDP MLAs.

“I know him to be a caring and compassionate man, but the matter is now before the courts and we have to let the courts determine his guilt or innocence,” Dosanjh told CTV News.

”I’ll say no more out of respect for the process and the alleged victim.”

CTV News has also learned an arrest warrant was issued for John. The Prince George provincial court registry said the warrant remains outstanding in its system, though the BCPS said it has been executed.

The Crown would not go into any further details as to when and where the warrant was executed, but did confirm John is no longer in custody.

Vancouver criminal lawyer Sarah Leamon said arrest warrants aren't always necessary in cases such as these, but that there are a number of reasons authorities might have obtained one.

"If the charges originate out of a particular jurisdiction and the police can't locate the individual for whatever reason – they don't have an address, they don't have a known place of work, maybe that person is residing out of province – typically what they would do is they would issue a warrant," Leamon said.

"It signals to any police officer that deals with that individual, even in the course of say a routine traffic stop … that there's a warrant that needs to be effected."

Special prosecutor Michael Klein was appointed to John's case in February but has only recently approved the counts under Section 144 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which at the time of the offence fell under the category of "having sexual intercourse with a female person without her consent."

CTV News has been unable to reach John, now 70 years old, for comment.

CTV News contacted the Tl’azt’en First Nation band office and was told “no comment.” The First Nations Summit, which John co-founded and was involved with for 11 consecutive terms, issued a brief statement describing John as a former member, “whose elected position with the FNS ceased in June 2019 when he did not seek re-election to the position.”

The organization, formed to speak on behalf of First Nations involved in treaty negotiations, says that they’ll cooperate fully with all investigative bodies and that while John had been on contract with FNS as an advisor, “that contract has been immediately suspended pending the outcome of this legal matter.”

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs says “The UBCIC does not have a direct employment relationship with Grand Chief Ed John” and that the organization “was deeply disappointed to learn today that there are reports of historic sexual violence carried out by Grand Chief Ed John.”

John spent five years as the North American representative to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. He was also Special Advisor on Aboriginal Chid Welfare to the Minister of Children and Families in BC and in 2016 released a report with 85 recommendations that called for more support for aboriginal children. He has also been outspoken on issues ranging from trapped Fraser Valley salmon to support for wildfire-impacted aboriginal communities.

According to his biography, John attended a the Lejac Residential School on Fraser Lake and finished high school in Prince George.

He graduated from the University of Victoria with a BA in 1974, the same year as the rape allegations.

He went on to get a law degree from UBC and last year was awarded the Alumni Award of Distinction by the Allard Law Alumni Association “for his contribution towards social and economic justice for indigenous peoples of Canada.” He has honourary doctorate of law degrees from UVic and UNBC.

John’s first court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 10 in Prince George.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Andrew Weichel