COQUITLAM, B.C. - A substitute teacher in B.C. has been acquitted of sex charges involving five young girls, but the judge and the defence lawyer agree the man was ignorant about how to behave in a classroom.
Aleksandr Plehanov was facing 10 counts related to sexual assault and sexual interference and one count of criminal harassment. He had been accused of inappropriately touching students between seven and eight years old at three Coquitlam schools between 2008 and 2010.
Provincial court Judge David St. Pierre said that while Plehanov was an ineffectual teacher who ignored the rules of conduct involving contact between teachers and students, the Crown failed to prove the touching was of a sexual nature.
Plehanov lawyer, Lisa Jean Helps, said her client is ecstatic about the outcome of the trial and has not yet decided on his future career plans.
"This was a very unpopular verdict with the parents and I do feel for them as it's a difficult process to go through, but at the end of the day there's a very strong integrity in the Canadian justice system."
However, she said witnesses at the trial made it clear that Plehanov lacked judgment as a teacher.
"There certainly were conduct issues that came out as a result of the trial and some of the witnesses that perhaps made clear that he was not the best teacher in terms of organization and classroom mangement," she said.
"The judge found that there may well have been some touching that went on and he did specifically find that he believed two of the girls, that they were put on Mr. Plehanov's lap but did not find, could not find, that there was any sexual component to the touching."
Helps said the first complaint against her client arose in 2008, followed by another in 2009 and then in 2010. One of the girls told her parents that Plehanov was "gross."
She said police conducted interviews at 37 schools in Coquitlam as part of their investigation.
The criminal harassment charge involved allegations that Plehanov was watching the home of one of the complainants, Helps said.
"Crown was trying to prove that he knew where this family lived and he was intentionally there to watch the family, and they failed on that count."
The trial involved more than 30 witnesses including the alleged victims, who were seven to eight years old.
Education Ministry spokesman Matt Silver said Plehanov's teaching licence was suspended by the B.C. College of Teachers in 2010.
He will need to attend disciplinary hearings by the Teacher Regulation Branch, which has since replaced the college, to get it reinstated.
The B.C. Teachers Federation did not wish to comment as per its usual policy regarding criminal cases.
The union provides teachers with a lawyer to represent them at disciplinary hearings. (The Canadian Press, News1130, CKNW)