Crown seeks up to 12 years in prison for former Esgenoôpetitj chief for sex crimes

·4 min read
Wilbur Dedam, shown in February, will be sentenced on four sexual offences when he returns to court on May 25. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)
Wilbur Dedam, shown in February, will be sentenced on four sexual offences when he returns to court on May 25. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)

A judge will decide later this month how long former Esgenoôpetitj First Nation chief Wilbur Dedam will serve in prison after finding him guilty of four sexual offences dating back decades.

Dedam, 68, was found guilty on four of six charges following a trial last fall. Those four charges alleged he sexually assaulted or touched three females between 1977 and 1985.

Dedam appeared in Miramichi court on Tuesday morning, when the Crown and defence outlined what they believe are appropriate prison sentences.

Crown prosecutor Melanie MacAulay said the Crown is seeking up to 12 years, while Dedam's lawyer, T.J. Burke, said the defence is seeking five to six years.

While the Crown, defence and victims expected sentencing to occur Tuesday, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Thomas Christie said he would issue his sentencing decision on May 25.

"I want to take a few weeks to think this through," Christie said.

Court of Queen's Bench Thomas Christie presided over the trial in Miramichi last fall, the third time Dedam has stood trial on the allegations.
Court of Queen's Bench Thomas Christie presided over the trial in Miramichi last fall, the third time Dedam has stood trial on the allegations. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Christie presided over the trial last October. It was the third time Dedam stood trial on the allegations, with the first conviction overturned on appeal and another ending with a mistrial.

On Tuesday, Christie heard a victim impact statement from one of the three victims.

None of the victims can be named because of a standard publication ban on anything that identifies victims of sexual assault.

The victim read her statement sitting in the jury box, holding a feather and her voice filled with emotion as she described being repeatedly sexually assaulted starting when she was 12 years old.

She described feeling humiliated, guilty, unloved, defeated and disgraced. She said she still feels the impact of Dedam's crimes decades later.

"By using me for his own sexual pleasures, he will now pay the ultimate price. His freedom, which he took from me when I was 12," she said.

A second victim provided the court with an impact statement but declined to read it aloud in court.

MacAulay said the judge must sentence Dedam in light of the abuse of trust and authority he had as chief of the community. She said the frequency and duration of the assaults is another factor.

"The assaults were very frequent and endured by [a victim] through her adolescence up to her adulthood," the prosecutor said.

At times as MacAulay outlined the crimes, victims or their supporters cried in the court's public gallery.

A spokesperson for the family told CBC News outside the courthouse that while they expected to see Dedam led away in handcuffs on Tuesday, they are OK with waiting a few more weeks.

Everybody was deeply affected by this. To come to this moment in time, that he will be incarcerated, is something we truly look forward to. - Spokesperson for the family

"The last seven, almost eight years, has been tremendously hard on my family," said this person, who cannot be named because it would identify the victim.

"Not just my family, but the entire community. It spills over to just about every household. Everybody was deeply affected by this. To come to this moment in time, that he will be incarcerated, is something we truly look forward to."

They said they know it's hard on the community and Dedam's family.

"All we ever wanted was justice to be served, and it was served."

Wilbur Dedam, right, leaves the Miramichi courthouse on Tuesday with his lawyer,  T.J. Burke.
Wilbur Dedam, right, leaves the Miramichi courthouse on Tuesday with his lawyer, T.J. Burke. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Dedam appeared to listen to the proceedings but with no visible reaction. He said nothing to the judge when offered the chance.

Outside court, he hugged supporters waiting in the courthouse parking lot who had expected him to be sent to prison that morning.

Dedam will return to court in Miramichi prior to Christie's sentencing decision on May 25.

He is scheduled to appear on May 14 in provincial court for a preliminary hearing on a separate charge. Last fall, he was charged with sexually assaulting a female under 14 between 1973 and 1974.

The hearing will determine if there's enough evidence in that case to proceed to trial.