The Daily News (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
A Berwick man was sentenced to five months in jail for ignoring a court order that allowed his former common-law wife access to their son Michael.
Edward Frank Dawson, 40, a member of the Bible-based Twelve Tribes cult, seemed stunned by the sentence, handed down by Nova scotia Supreme court Justice Hiram J. Carver.
Justice Carver said that breaching a court order involving a child is an extremely serious offence because “strikes out against the family unit.
He added, that although he believed Dawson would not commit the same offence again, the general public must be sent a strong message “that they can’t break the law.”
Dawson, fled Nova Scotia with his son Michael in mid-March, 1992 after being served a notice to appear in court.
Defence attorney Jean Swantko, an American lawyer who is also a member of the Vermont-based community, said her client did not want Michael to be alone with his mother, Judy Seymour, because Michael had been the “victim of anti-cult agendas since he was four years old” through Seymour’s association with psychiatrist and deprogrammers.
Swantko added that Dawson was also afraid because of past experiences with the court, saying Dawson fled “to protect the light of his life….Michael.”
In 1987, Dawson was in court to retrieve his son from Family and Children’s Services, which had removed Michael from the Myrtle Tree Farm commune in Waterville.
Dawson had also been jailed for hiding Michael from child-care workers. However, he was vindicated by a 1989 ruling of the Supreme Court Appeals Division. That ruling stated that the child welfare agency had acted improperly, and it led to stricter child protection legislation.
Carver pointed out that Dawson should have known from this experience that the justice system would serve him well.
Crown attorney Jack Buntain agreed. He told the court that Dawson’s actions were calculated, adding that by breaching the court order, Dawson was “flaunting the very legislation he had an active role in placing on the books.”
Dawson disappeared with his son for 23 months before being located in California. “During that 23-month period the biological mother of that child had no idea where her child was,” Buntain said.
Buntain read from the victim impact statement made by Michael’s mother, saying this incident had “a very traumatic effect” on Michael and that she “felt like a degraded, broken animal.”
Buntain asked the court to impose a term of incarceration of six to 12 months.
The defence argued that Dawson has paid the ultimate price for his actions because he has no access to Michael, who now lives with his mother in Montreal.
In an emotional appeal to the judge, Dawson said it was not his nature to defy a court order and now that he has had time to reflect, he would have done it differently.
“I was not thinking of myself. I was not thinking of Judy Seymour. I was not thinking about the judicial system in Nova Scotia. I was thinking about my son,” he said.
Dawson asked the judge to “have mercy and give me the opportunity to prove my regret.”
As part of his sentence, Dawson was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of $35 and will be placed on two years reporting probation when he is out of jail. Terms of probation state that Dawson must reside in Nova Scotia and that any visits with his son must be arranged through the courts and will be supervised. Dawson is also prohibited from initiating contact with his former common-law wife.
Dawson was convicted on Sept. 15 of disobeying a court order that granted his son’s mother access to the boy. He was acquitted the same day of a more serious charge of abduction. However, the Crown has lodged a notice of appeal on the grounds that the judge erred in law in ruling that the Crown had to prove that the accused took the child away from the actual possession of the mother.