Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Prison time for former role model

Gets two years less a day for sex assaults on youths

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Convicted sex offender Thomas Edwards, a former national aboriginal hero, was led out of a Winnipeg courtroom in handcuffs Thursday.

Edwards will serve two years less a day in prison for preying on the friends of his younger brother, claiming he was performing traditional healing ceremonies while sexually assaulting them.

The Crown asked for a six-year term. Edwards' lawyer was hoping for a conditional sentence.

Edwards was sentenced to jail because he refuses to admit his guilt. Court of Queen's Bench Justice Colleen Suche was clear she struggled with the sentence. A court-ordered psychiatric report said Edwards "sees himself as a victim and he spreads his victimization to his family."

Suche pointed to the letters of support presented by Edwards' lawyer.

Edwards had a number of supporters in court Thursday afternoon, many of them sobbing when the sentence was read.

"Mr. Edwards has caused considerable harm to his victims, their families and even the young boys who were part of this group," Suche said. "He destroyed the trust and the friendships."

Edwards has two university degrees and was teaching at a St. Vital elementary school when he was arrested.

In 2004, Edwards won recognition for being the first aboriginal naval cadet to fight for the right to keep his long, braided hair. He went on to win two National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation scholarships and three Business Council of Manitoba Aboriginal Education Awards.

The assaults took place between 2003 and 2007. The victims were between 14 and 16. Edwards was seven years older. The judge said the relative closeness in age was a factor in giving him a lighter sentence.

Although he was an aboriginal role model the victims looked up to, he wasn't considered to be in a position of authority over the boys. The young teens were drunk when they were assaulted. In one case, Edwards supplied the liquor.

He performed oral sex on one victim and attempted anal rape on the other. In both cases, he stopped when they protested.

The mother of one of the boys said she had hoped for a longer sentence.

"We told him he had to testify," she said of her now-24-year-old. "When you have someone who is in a position of authority doing this to kids, you have a social responsibility to speak up."

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 28, 2013 A7

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