Nova Scotia

Sem Paul Obed's upbringing included 'horrific' childhood trauma, witness testifies

A corrections officer who worked with Sem Paul Obed in the 1990s testified at his dangerous offender hearing Thursday in Halifax about the obstacles Indigenous inmates faced, including racism, poverty and substance abuse.

Warning: This story contains disturbing details

Sem Paul Obed is shown in a photo provided by Halifax Regional Police in 2014. (Halifax Regional Police)

A corrections officer who worked with Sem Paul Obed in the 1990s testified at his dangerous offender hearing Thursday in Halifax about the obstacles Indigenous inmates faced, including racism, poverty and substance abuse.

The dangerous offender hearing stems from a violent June 2018 sexual assault Obed admitted to committing. The Crown is looking to have Obed, who is originally from Hopedale in eastern Labrador, locked up indefinitely. His lawyer, Brad Sarson, has questioned whether less restrictive sentences might be available.

Corrections officer Sarah Anala saw Obed when he was incarcerated at the Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick in the 1990s. She talked about the difficulties he and other Indigenous inmates faced, being far removed from their culture and their people. At the time, Anala, who is also Indigenous, said there was no support program tailored for offenders with Obed's cultural identity. She has since helped build one.

A grim assessment of Obed's personal circumstance has been painted in the psychiatric assessment that was tabled in court as part of the dangerous offender process.

While he has happy memories of his early childhood, Obed told the psychiatrist conducting the assessment, Dr. Grainne Neilson, that things started to deteriorate when he was about 10 or 11. That's when he said both his parents started drinking heavily. When his father got drunk, he would become aggressive, said Obed.

Most of that aggression was directed toward Obed's mother, and it created a violent and unpredictable home life. When Obed was 21, his father killed himself. Obed's mother died of what was described as "dementia and brain damage" at the age of 72.

Sem Paul Obed is shown at a 2018 court appearance in Halifax. (CBC)

Anala told the court Obed's generation saw things children should never see.

"I think his childhood trauma is so deeply ingrained, he may be afraid of opening that door," Anala told the court. "Horrific."

She said during her time working with Obed, he started as a leader among Indigenous inmates, but gradually withdrew. She said part of it was the stigma he faced as a sex offender, hearing others refer to him by such disparaging terms as "diddler."

Obed has more than 30 prior convictions, many of them for violent offences. When he was released from prison in 2014 after serving a previous sentence, police warned people in the Halifax area that he was a high risk to reoffend.

Many of Obed's offences were linked to his abuse of alcohol.

"Maybe my long-term goal should be to stay away from alcohol altogether," he told Neilson during one of their assessment interviews.

Obed's 'hatred' toward women

But Neilson found it troubling that Obed also offended when he was sober, and many of his violent offences were against women.

"The way I feel about them, sometimes, I just have a hatred towards them," Obed told Neilson in talking about women.

"I see them as sex objects — just there for the sex. That's it. I guess it comes from my growing up. I saw women drunk, passed out, being beaten up by their husbands."

Anala told the court Obed was worried about the media attention his crimes were drawing, and that caused him to withdraw and not participate in treatment offered at the prisons where he was held.

Ten days have been set aside for the hearing. The last five days are scheduled for April, after which lawyers will provide written and oral arguments for the judge to consider.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Blair Rhodes

Reporter

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca

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