Criminal Law

High school teacher jailed for secret videos of students’ chests

Canadian PressTHE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO — A high school teacher convicted by Canada’s top court of voyeurism for secretly video recording female students with a pen camera has been handed a six-month jail term.

In his decision, Superior Court Justice Andrew Goodman rejected a defence plea for a conditional sentence, saying it would be contrary to the public interest.

“This offence can be classified as a breach of trust perpetrated on young female adolescents,” Goodman wrote. “The significant denunciatory effect of jail is required.”

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto criminal lawyer Jessica Zita says how courts treat sexually motivated offences is a hot topic, and courts are increasingly sensitive to these allegations, the trial processes surrounding them, and the punishment of the impugned act should it be found proven.

“This is a clear pronouncement from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on how this type of conduct is to be handled. It’s a strong statement clearly indicating that deterrence and denunciation are the main focus when an offender is sentenced on charges of this nature,” says Zita, an associate with Hicks Adams LLP.

“The sentence imposed in this case is indicative of a trend we will see more of — courts will have little leniency for offenders convicted of sexual offences, especially when the victims are considered vulnerable,” she adds.

Zita, who was not involved in the matter and comments generally, says it’s interesting that the teacher was sentenced by the same trial judge who initially acquitted him.

“Though the trial judge had strong words denouncing the teacher’s conduct the first time around, he was ultimately acquitted as Justice Goodman found that the videos taken had no obvious sexual purpose. It’s interesting to see a trial judge faced with the same case a second time adjudicated so divergently,” she notes.

Police in London, Ont., charged the teacher with voyeurism for recordings he made in 2010 and 2011 as he chatted with 27 female students aged 14 to 18.

In November 2015, Goodman blasted the English teacher’s behaviour as “morally repugnant and professionally objectionable.” Nevertheless, Goodman acquitted him on the basis that, while the students had an expectation of privacy at school, the teacher had no sexual purpose.

The Court of Appeal in a split decision disagreed with Goodman but nevertheless upheld the acquittal in October 2017. While the teacher’s recordings of the chest areas of the clothed students were obviously sexual, the appellate court said, the students had no reasonable expectation of privacy.

The Supreme Court of Canada, however, ruled unanimously in February that a student would not expect to be singled out by a teacher to become the subject of a secretive, minutes-long recording focusing on her body. The high court, dealing with the offence of voyeurism for the first time, convicted the man and sent the case back to Goodman for sentencing.

In his sentencing decision last week, Goodman noted the impact the teacher’s actions had on his victims, such as feeling betrayed, having their trust in authority damaged, or being left traumatized.

“It had lasting effects on me, even to this day, nine years later,” M.W., who was a 14-year-old student when the man videoed her, said in a victim impact statement. “It has had an effect on my relationships with men, even today.”

In crafting his sentence, Goodman also rejected the prosecution call for a 12- to 18-month term for the first-time offender. The judge noted that supporters, such as his parents, partner and friends, described the man as considerate, caring and always ready to help others in need.

“My first question to him was, ‘Did you do it?’” a friend wrote in a submission to the court. “[He] did not hesitate. ‘Yes,’ he responded. ‘I didn’t think anyone would get hurt. It was stupid, wrong, and I shouldn’t have done it.’”

Nevertheless, Goodman was adamant that a strong message needed to be sent. Cameras, cellphones and other devices capable of recording people without their knowledge or consent are everywhere, he noted.

“In my view, this increases the need for sending a message to the general public that taking pictures of individuals in compromising positions — for example, women who might be wearing a top that is loose or showing cleavage — is inappropriate,” Goodman said. “That is what [the teacher] did, repeatedly and with guile.”

In addition to jail time, Goodman placed the man on probation for 12 months during which time he can’t have contact with any of his victims.

The man was stripped of his licence to teach in April after he admitted to professional misconduct. The discipline committee of the Ontario College of Teachers found he had egregiously abused his position of trust and authority.

“He took advantage of the fact that he had access to young female students and he recorded videos of their breasts and cleavage for a sexual purpose,” the committee said. “(His) criminal conduct was sexually abusive and completely unacceptable.”

© 2019 The Canadian Press

— With files from AdvocateDaily.com

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