By Lloyd Dolha
A Saskatchewan judge drew accusations of racism from the family of a young Cree girl, when he ruled she was a willing participant – or even a sexual aggressor – in sexual activity with a 26-year-old man.
On September 4, Dean Edmondson of Melford, Saskatchewan, received a two-year conditional sentence from Justice Fred Kovatch, for sexually assaulting the (then) 12-year-old girl. He will be confined to his home, rather than face a lengthy jail term.
Judge Kovatch said that he couldn’t ignore allegations by the defense that the girl was raised in an abusive home environment. Earlier testimony suggested the girl was frequently abused by her father. During the trial, the girl’s underwear was submitted as evidence. Semen belonging to the girl’s father was found on it. That evidence, said Kovatch, supported the defense theory that the girl may have been the sexual aggressor.
In September 2001, Edmondson and two friends had been drinking heavily and driving the backwoods country roads near Tisdale; where they came upon the 89-pound girl in front of a local bar. The girl accepted a ride from the three men, all in their twenties, who gave her several beers to drink.
According to testimony, the girl ended up in Edmondson’s lap and the two kissed. Shortly thereafter, the truck pulled over and the two attempted to have sex, but Edmondson could not obtain an erection. The other two men also attempted to have sex with the girl but failed as well.
In May, Edmondson was convicted of being party to a sexual assault. His two companions were acquitted in a separate trial. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
Kovatch noted that similar sexual assault crimes almost always carry extreme penalties.
“I think it’s clear from the authorities that a conditional sentence would be rare indeed,” said Kovatch.
The judge then noted earlier testimony that suggested the girl was often abused by her father. He quoted testimony by a pediatrician who said that an abused child may show “unpredictable sexual behaviour.”
This suggests the girl may have been a “willing participant” or “the aggressor” in the incident, he said.
“That in no way condones Mr. Edmondson’s conduct, [but] in my opinion is a factor in sentencing,” said Kovatch.
The judge further noted that the girl got into the men’s truck willingly, lied about her age and drank beer.
All of these factors must be taken into account in sentencing, said Kovatch. It would have been different if the girl had been kidnapped off the street and forced into sexual activity
“No one has any business involving themselves sexually with anyone that age. That being said, there are clearly degrees. There is a difference from a sentencing perspective,” said Kovatch. The very unusual facts suggest that a jail term is “not necessarily required.”
Defense lawyer Hugh Harradence said the judge made the right decision.
“I think it is justice and it can be defended,” he said.
As the judgement was read out, family members and supporters of the now 14-year-old girl stormed out of the courtroom, shouting and accusing the court of racism.
“The young white man was sitting there with the judge protecting him. Who has justice served here? It sure wasn’t our aboriginal child,” a family spokesperson told reporters outside the courthouse.
One family member, who cannot be named by law, said the sentence reinforces what they already knew.
“This trial has never ever served our aboriginal people. It just goes to show it’s a racist system in terms of when it comes to our people. There was a wrong done on our child. The young white man got off scot-free,” he said.
Edmondson will have to perform 200 hours of community service, receive alcohol and sexual offender counselling; and pay a $500 fine.
In a brief statement to reporters, Crown prosecutor Gary Parker said he will pass the case file to provincial justice officials in Regina to consider an appeal.
A provincial women’s rights organization has also denounced the sentence. The Saskatchewan Action Committee for the Status of Women has been following the case.
“This is a travesty of justice,” said Kripa Sekhar, executive director. “This is a verdict against all children in Canada. We should all be very concerned.”
Sekhar said her organization will write letters of complaint against the judge and will lobby the provincial Minister of Justice to investigate the manner in which the case was prosecuted.