In most circles, Thomas Edwards would be a tainted outcast.
He's a convicted sex offender who preyed on young teenagers under the guise of performing traditional healing ceremonies. He won their trust, plied them with alcohol and violated them. At the time of the assaults, Edwards was a nationally acclaimed aboriginal role model; they were friends of his much-younger brother.
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. His vanity Wikipedia citation calls him "a teacher, humanitarian, anti-poverty advocate, advocate for the homeless and National Aboriginal Role Model."
The criminal was a man whose trajectory seemed headed for the stars before his arrest. He was a First Nations success story: educated, committed to change, a leader in the making. At the time of his arrest, he had an education degree and was teaching at a St. Vital elementary school.
He was fired, of course, just as he was fired again when he headed to his home reserve for a new teaching position. His victims were not his students.
Edwards remains unrepentant. He denies his guilt. Because his crimes seem so out of character (and we've seen this before when the pederast is a priest, doctor or other professional), his community stands behind him. His lawyer hopes that blind support will be enough to keep his client out of jail.
It shouldn't be, nor should any other factor let him remain free in the community.
Edwards was convicted in September 2012. This week, sentencing was delayed so he could be sent to a psychiatrist and his risk of reoffending assessed. Court of Queen's Bench Justice Colleen Suche said she was concerned because Edwards hasn't admitted his guilt.
"How do I deal with rehabilitation if somebody doesn't even acknowledge they've even done the act?" she asked. "How can they be rehabilitated?"
The assaults took place between 2003 and 2007. The victims, who were friends of his younger brother, were between 14 and 16. Edwards was seven years older.
He took drunken boys into his bedroom, removed most of their clothes and touched them as part of some whack-a-doodle "healing ceremony" to rid them of evil spirits. One boy stopped him when Edwards touched his penis. Another time, the same boy woke up from an epic drinking session with his pants undone and a hand on his penis. In court, Edwards denied the boy's allegations.
The other victim got much the same treatment, although Edwards blocked the door when he tried to leave the bedroom. He cried out when Edwards anally raped him. Again, the perpetrator denied his actions.
He could not be convicted on a charge of sexual exploitation because he was not in a position of trust over the boys.
At the trial's end, Justice Suche ruled she "found the accused to be totally lacking in credibility."
Wednesday morning, his lawyer dredged shallow waters when he posited reasons Edwards deserves a conditional sentence of two years less a day. His parents divorced and he was bullied as a child, he said. That puts him in the same league as half the population. It's not a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Edwards has had these charges hanging over for him for five years, the advocate argued, as though that should reduce his penalty. His victims have been waiting for justice the same length of time.
Edwards became a role model quickly and perhaps wasn't prepared for the attention, the lawyer said. That may be so, and it must have been heady to be called a national role model in one's early 20s. You might feel overwhelmed, but you shouldn't feel the need to sexually assault a young teenager.
Thomas Edwards made a mockery of his culture by inventing a reason to sexually abuse boys. He betrayed them, and he betrayed his people. He is no role model, no hero. He's a convicted sex offender who deserves to go to jail.