Content warning: story contains descriptions of child abuse
At 22, George Edward Sanderson seemed a mild-mannered, promising young man.
He was “polite and shy.” He graduated from high school with academic awards, and was taking a training course to become an electrician.
That’s the picture his defence lawyer painted Tuesday, as Sanderson appeared in Prince Albert’s provincial courthouse to plead guilty to molesting three boys on the James Smith Cree Nation and taking explicit photographs of the abuse. He’ll face a three year sentence, with credit for time served, as part of a plea bargain with the Crown.
About two dozen family members came to support Sanderson, now 23, with many wiping away tears as he apologized for his crimes.
“I wasn’t raised like this, this isn’t me,” he said. “When I get out of here I’ll show you guys that I’m a better person.”
According to Crown prosecutor Shawn Blackman, Sanderson started molesting boys in 2015. That January, he met a 13 year old through Facebook. “The relationship progressed,” Blackman said, until the two met in person at a powwow on the James Smith Cree Nation.
Sanderson and the boy “became sexually active shortly thereafter,” Blackman said, “and engaged in anal intercourse with each other in early 2015.”
Blackman told the court that Sanderson took sexually explicit pictures of himself and the boy together, and sent them to another teen, this one aged 14, through the social networking app Snapchat.
For the next year, Sanderson continued to chat with the 14 year old. They eventually arranged an evening meeting at a playground on the reserve. There, Sanderson kissed the boy, pulled down his pants and fondled his penis.
The third victim was 15 at the time of the offence. Blackman said that pictures of that boy, nude, turned up on Sanderson’s iPad. He showed those pictures to his first victim, who also saw pictures of himself on the device.
Sanderson’s obsession with retaining nude pictures of his victims may have led to his capture. On October 27 of last year, investigators with the province’s Internet Child Exploitation Unit got a warrant to search his residence on Sturgeon Lake First Nation.
They couldn’t find Sanderson, but tracked him down at James Smith. Officers placed him under arrest and seized his iPad, with all its compromising material.
The case wound its way through the courts. But that arrest gave Sanderson’s lawyer, Ron Piché, enough leverage to negotiate a deal for his client. Piché was set to argue that the police didn’t have the authority to seize that evidence. They had a search warrant for Sanderson’s residence, he pointed out, not an arrest warrant.
“Nothing that they really found in the search would have led to reasonable grounds to arrest without a warrant, and that’s when they seized the iPad,” Piché told the Daily Herald.
Piché said his client ran the risk of a seven year sentence. He got word that Blackman was ready to “swing for the fences” and seek a heavy sentence if the case went to trial. Making the deal, in those circumstances, was a “no brainer.”
“These deals don’t just fall from the sky,” Piché said. “You’ve got to earn them.”
Judge Kalenith said he was pleased the case won’t go to trial, saving the victims the burden of testifying about the abuse in court.
“These are cases that are difficult to prosecute, difficult to defend and difficult to judge,” Kalenith said.
He said the three-year deal was “reasonable and appropriate,” and admitted that Sanderson seemed remorseful.
Sanderson will get 440 days credit for the time he’s already spent in custody. That means he will serve at most 655 more days in a provincial jail on three counts of sexual interference and charges of making and possessing child pornography.
Kalenith also ordered two years probation, which will include provisions for sex offender treatment and to forbid Sanderson from using a computer, smartphone or any similar device.
“I suspect, your honour, that with the proper programming you will not see Mr. Sanderson before the court again,” said Piché.
“Hopefully the experts can tweak what the problem is.”
Sanderson will also have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, and is prohibited from any unsupervised contact with children under the age of 16. Kalenith’s orders will also keep him away from playgrounds and schools, as well as any parks or swimming pools when children are present.
Kalenith, Blackman and Piché all seemed relieved to see the case come to an early end.
“I think all parties are glad to put this matter behind us,” Piché said.