A Cree medicine man accused of sexual assault testified at a hearing to see whether his guilty pleas should be withdrawn. Court also heard from his original legal counsel.
60-year-old Cecil Wolfe is facing 12 counts of sexual assault for allegedly abusing multiple women while acting as a traditional healer.
The alleged interactions occurred over a ten year period in areas around Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and Saskatoon.
Last year, Wolfe entered a guilty plea to those charges. However, at a lengthy sentencing hearing in October, Wolfe had a difficult time agreeing to a jointly submitted agreed statement of facts that was read out in court in both English and Cree. Wolfe had previously signed the document indicating he understood the statement of facts and his guilty plea.
The sentencing hearing was then adjourned, and since that time Wolfe replaced his legal counsel Loretta Pete Lambert with new counsel, Harvey Neufeld, and filed an application to have his guilty pleas withdrawn.
At an expungement hearing on Friday, the court heard testimony as to whether the guily pleas should be withdrawn or not.
At previous hearings, everything stated in court was repeated to Wolfe in Cree. However, at this hearing, defence counsel waived Wolfe’s right to translation as he understood most spoken English, but had difficulty understanding written English. The court agreed that Wolfe could indicate if he was having any trouble understanding the proceedings and it would be explained to him in Cree.
The first person to Provide testimony and answer questions from lawyers at the hearing was Wolfe’s initial lawyer Loretta Pete Lambert.
Pete Lambert answered questions from both Crown and defense lawyers for several hours where she was questioned on matters around her legal relationship with Cecil Wolfe including how many hours she worked on the file, case research she did on similar matters, how she acquired Wolfe’s guilty plea, how she communicated his legal options, the agreed statement of facts, Wolfe’s health issues at the time, and her conversations with the Crown on a proposed 9.5 year prison sentence if Wolfe pleaded guilty.
Pete Lambert spoke on the many women with accusations that eventually came forward and the expert witnesses that the Crown would use against him as reasons she felt Wolfe should enter a guilty plea.
Wolfe’s former lawyer did say she never received a written declaration from Wolfe to plead guilty, as she says most matters were communicated to him orally as he had a difficult time reading English. She did testify Wolfe made an oral declaration for her to enter a guilty plea and she says she communicated to him what he was facing as a result of that plea in both English and Cree.
The court then heard from Cecil Wolfe himself.
Wolfe spoke extensively on his time in residential schools and how he got into work as a medicine man, which he says he learned from his grandfather.
The questioning of Wolfe was very similar to Pete Lambert’s as to what information he received from his former lawyer, what he understood about the court process, and his understanding of what it meant for him to plead guilty.
Wolfe says when he entered guilty pleas in court over the phone, he says he only did so because his lawyer told him to. As for the agreed statement of facts, which he signed, Wolfe claims Pete Lambert never went through the document with him and he was told to sign it.
Pete Lambert had testified that she explained these things to Wolfe in both Cree and English.
When Wolfe was asked if he would have made the decision to enter a guilty plea with the knowledge that it would result in a 9.5 year prison sentence he said “no.”
When Wolfe was being questioned by the Crown prosecutor he had a difficult time remembering several aspects of the court process and spoke on memory issues he has had since suffering a heart attack earlier this year.
The Crown then challenged Wolfe saying Pete Lambert didn’t tell him to plead guilty, but that she provided Wolfe with her opinion that he should enter a guilty plea. The Crown posited that the guilty plea Cecil Wolfe entered was his own.
The Crown also brought up that there was a 7 month period between the date he entered his guilty pleas until the sentencing hearing where the concerns seemed to come forward. During that time, Wolfe did not inform his lawyers or the courts that he wanted to withdraw his guilty pleas.
The matter was adjourned to a later date to give defence counsel additional time to provide a written submission on the matter.
Judge Sanjeed Anand indicated he would have an opportunity to review the written submissions and should be able to make a decision at that date.
If Anand decides to allow Wolfe’s pleas to be expunged from the record the matter will head to trial. If the pleas stand – the matter will move to sentencing.
Wolfe was first charged in the fall of 2021.