PORT COQUITLAM — A former Coquitlam substitute teacher is a free man after being acquitted on several sexual assault charges relating to allegations made by five former students dating back to 2008.
On Monday, a provincial court judge in Port Coquitlam found Aleksandr Plehanov not guilty on a total of 11 charges, including five charges of sexual assault, five of sexual interference and one of criminal harassment.
In his decision, Judge David St. Pierre said Crown failed to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
The judge wrote he had no doubt the children who testified attempted to provide their evidence in an honest fashion, but it is impossible to conclude whether the contact was incidental or could be characterized and proven as criminal.
“It was clear from the evidence that Mr. Plehanov either was completely ignorant or ignored the parameters and boundaries that were expected of a teacher by the school board and/or the teaching college relating to appropriate contact between a teacher and students,” the judge wrote.
“It has to be remembered that this is a criminal case and behaviour that may breach the standards and expectations created by employers and teaching colleges in the teaching environment does not necessarily equate with behaviour that is properly characterized as criminal in nature.”
The alleged victims were all in grades 2 and 3, were seven or eight years old at the time of the alleged incidents and came from three different schools in School District 43. The alleged incidents date to January 2008.
Outside the courthouse, Plehanov’s lawyer Lisa Helps said her client was “ecstatic” at the decision, noting he had maintained his innocence from the beginning.
“In the circumstances, that [the judge’s decision] was the right thing to do,” she said.
Helps said she had no indication of her client’s future plans.
Meanwhile, the parents of the children, who can’t be identified, said they were disappointed by the verdict.
One mother said she would have to carefully explain the verdict to her child.
“All these children did the right thing. They went home, told their parents — they talked about it,” she said.
“I will definitely reassure my daughter she did the right thing and it took a lot of strength and courage to do that.”
The parents also said they hope the case will lead to changes not only in the local school district, but in others around the province when it comes to reporting protocols around similar allegations.
But it was also clear the lengthy trial had taken a toll on the parents.
“I’m tired of talking about this and thinking about this. I just want to not come here [the courthouse] again,” one mother said.
If Plehanov wants to continue his teaching career, he likely faces an uphill battle to get back in the classroom.
The B.C. College of Teachers, which is now the Teacher Regulation Branch (TRB) under the Ministry of Education, suspended his teaching certificate in 2010.
A ministry spokesperson noted that just because Plehanov has been acquitted on all charges doesn’t mean he automatically gets to teach again.
The TRB process was suspended pending the outcome of the trial.
The ministry spokesperson said Plehanov would have to apply for a disciplinary hearing, in which a TRB commissioner would decide his fate.
There is no timeline for when the date of such a hearing would be set.
Plehanov’s trial, which began in January, included 33 witnesses and several breaks in the testimony.