Ex-Esgenoôpetitj First Nation chief sexually assaulted 12-year-old girl, jury hears

Former Esgenoôpetitj First Nation chief Wilbur Dedam sexually assaulted a young girl in the community as often as three times a week in the late 1970s, the jury at his retrial heard Wednesday.

The complainant testified about the alleged abuse, which she said started in 1977 when she was 12 and before he was chief. 

Her parents were friends with Dedam and she would be called to his house to help babysit while his wife was out, she said.

One day in 1977, Dedam led her into a bedroom, lay her down on a bed and penetrated her with his penis, she testified.

Afterward, he warned her if she told anybody about what had happened, he would tell her father that she came onto him, she said.

That scared her, she said, because her father was physically abusive.

She said she tried to avoid Dedam, but he was a "creature of habit." He routinely sexually assaulted her while his wife was out grocery shopping or playing bingo, usually on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons, she said.

The alleged abuse continued for years, the Burton Court of Queen's Bench courtroom heard.

4 charges

Dedam, 67, is accused of sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 14, sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 16, sexual intercourse without consent and illicit sexual relations. The alleged offences occurred between 1977 and 1982 and all involve the same alleged victim, whose identity is protected by a publication ban.

In 2016, Dedam was sentenced to nine years in prison after a jury found him guilty of six sex-related offences against three girls in the community between 1977 and 1985.

But in August 2018, New Brunswick's Court of Appeal set aside the convictions and ordered a new trial, ruling Dedam had been improperly excluded from the courtroom during his first trial in Miramichi, in violation of his charter rights.

'Come here, sit on my lap'

The retrial is scheduled to continue on Thursday morning in the Burton courthouse, southeast of Fredericton.

The alleged victim was on the witness stand all day Wednesday. For much of her testimony, she kept her eyes closed and stroked an eagle feather she brought with her for comfort.

Still, she became so emotional on two occasions, Justice William Grant had to order a recess.

On Tuesday, the alleged victim told the courtroom about her first memory of Dedam.

She was about six or seven years old and alone a room with Dedam, as he strummed a guitar, next to a wood-fired oven, she said.

Dedam stopped playing and told her to, "Come here, sit on my lap," she testified.

While on his lap, he told her, "I'll wait for you."

"When you're six or seven, you don't think anything of it," she said.

Dedam served as chief of the community, formerly known as Burnt Church, northeast of Miramichi, on and off for about 30 years.

The jury of six women and six men was selected on Monday, along with another woman and man, who are alternates.

The Crown prosecutors handling the case are Jean-Guy Savoie and Melanie MacAulay.

Dedam's defence lawyers are T.J. Burke of Fredericton and Michael Lacy of Toronto.