Edmonton Catholic Schools teacher convicted of sexually abusing student; teacher claimed she herself was assaulted and blackmailed

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Warning: this story contains details some readers may find disturbing.

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A one-time Edmonton music teacher has been convicted of sexually abusing a former student.

After a multi-week trial, Justice Susan Bercov on Thursday convicted a suspended Edmonton Catholic Schools teacher of sexual assault and sexual interference for having sexual contact with a teenage boy who was previously her student.

Bercov imposed a publication ban on the name of the accused Thursday without explanation or notice to the media.

The teacher, who is in her 30s, worked as a music instructor at a junior high school. In May 2019, she was charged with three sex offences involving a former pupil, including sexual assault, invitation to sexual touching and sexual interference. The alleged offences took place between June and November 2016, when the student was 15.

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Bercov was tasked with weighing two vastly different versions of what happened.

The student, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, claimed the teacher initiated the sexual relationship. He said he was a willing participant, though as a minor he was legally unable to consent to any sexual contact. He claimed he and the teacher had intercourse in her cousin’s basement, in the school music room during summer break, and in the teacher’s car on a rural road. They kissed and engaged in oral sex in her car on at least 10 other occasions, he said.

The teacher said there were only two instances of sexual contact. She said the student — who was physically larger than she — forced himself on her after she brought him to her cousin’s house. She claimed the student wished to discuss a personal issue in private and that she made sure another family member was home at the time of their meeting.

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Teacher and student later went to a drug store, where she purchased the morning-after pill. She claimed a week later, the student pressured her into giving him oral sex in her car. She continued to see the student because she worried he would go to police if she made him angry. The teacher said she feared she would not be believed because of the age and power imbalance between the two.

The student, who moved schools after graduating from junior high, testified he had no desire to get his former teacher in trouble. He eventually revealed the sexual contact during a heated argument with his mother because “he wanted to spite her,” Bercov said.

Defence lawyer Brian Vail argued that while the teacher may have had boundary issues — she continued to socialize with many band alumni after they graduated — she is not a sexual abuser. He said his client merely empathized with a troubled former student who betrayed her trust and blackmailed her.

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She eventually broke off contact because her fear of the student “was outweighed by the fact she no longer wanted to have further sexual activity with (him), period,” said Vail.

Vail added that the alleged sex in the teacher’s car, as described by the student, would have been extremely risky and in some cases, physically impossible. “It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Vail also called into question the student’s claims about the sex in the cousin’s basement, saying it implicated the teacher’s devoutly religious family members in a “fantastic conspiracy theory.”

Crown prosecutor Damon MacLeod said the teacher displayed a “startling lack of professionalism” that cast doubt on all her evidence. He noted the student knew about scars on intimate parts of her body which were later confirmed by investigators (the defence said the teacher told the student about her scars when he expressed body image issues).

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Good teachers can empathize with a student “all while maintaining a professional distance,” MacLeod said. “They don’t become friendly confidants who hang out with their students in the evening … and they definitely don’t exchange Snapchat messages with their students.”

He said her behaviour was that of a teacher trying to cover up a sexual relationship with a student.

“No teacher acting in their right mind would take a 15-year-old student to the privacy of her cousin’s basement to have a chat,” he said.

The case came down to the contradictory testimony of the teacher and the student. Bercov noted there was no independent evidence such as texts, emails, DNA or security footage on which she could make her decision.

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She concluded neither teacher nor student were entirely credible witnesses. She found the teacher’s explanation for why she was in the basement with her student “defies common sense,” but concluded the Crown had not proven the charge related to the incident.

She found the Crown had proved its case regarding the oral sex in the car. Bercov said the teacher had not adequately established a defence of duress, and that even if she feared the student might go to police, that did not excuse the sexual contact.

“It is against public policy for anyone to commit a crime because they fear another person might make a false allegation against them and they might not be believed,” she said.

As for the other incidents described by the student, Bercov said she could not find beyond a reasonable doubt that they occurred.

The teacher’s case is next in court Sept. 3 to set a date for sentencing.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield

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