By ELAINE O’CONNOR
The evidence of five young girls who allege a substitute teacher touched them lacks “reliability and credibility,” the teacher’s defence counsel said yesterday in Port Coquitlam Provincial Court.
“The frailty of the children’s evidence cannot be removed by similar fact,” Lisa Phelps said, asking for an acquittal of her client Aleksandr Plehanov during her closing arguments before Judge David St. Pierre.
“It is my submission that there are … reliability issues for each of the children,” she said, citing instances where two of the girls had spoken before disclosing their statements to police, and the potential influence of their parents.
Plehanov is charged with five counts each of sexual assault and sexual interference involving five female students, plus one charge of criminal harassment stemming from a visit to one of their houses. He has denied the allegations.
Phelps asked the judge to acquit Plehanov of all 10 sex-related charges plus the harassment.
Phelps argued even if the court decided touching took place, the Crown failed to prove the motive was overtly sexual, and therefore in her view, a finding of sexual assault could not be made.
She suggested the touching was “ambiguous,” a result of poor classroom management where “the children were hanging off of Mr. P as much as Mr. P was touching the children.”
“What we have here are a number of touches that when viewed objectively do not have a carnal or sexual context,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Crown counsel Wendy van Tongeren Harvey wrapped up her arguments asking the court to consider the similar facts of the testimonies of the children to bolster their evidence and show a propensity of the accused toward such behaviour.
She pointed to several similarities: the age and sex of the victims, that incidents occurred in the classroom during instructional time, that the children were distracted with electronics or games, that little was said during the incidents, that touching included contact with the buttocks and shoulders, under shirts or while sitting on his lap, and even the fact that they were all brunettes, as demonstrating a pattern refuting the idea it was accidental touching.
The Crown stressed that although a few of the girls had known each other or heard generally what had happened, not all of them had.
“It is improbable that two or more people would claim that the accused did some action to each of them,” van Tongeren Harvey said.
Three girls at Glen Elementary came forward with allegations that Plehanov had touched them in March 2010. One eight-year-old claimed he’d rubbed her buttocks and touched her pelvic area, another girl said he’d touched the shoulders, thigh and under her shirt, and a third said he’d toucher her shoulders and buttocks.
Two other female students also complained: one girl at Bramblewood Elementary alleged he twice pulled her on his lap and rubbed her belly in October 2009, and an Eagle Ridge Elementary student said she was asked to sit on his lap while he touched her waist and pelvic area in January 2008.
The Crown closed their case on June 21, after calling more than 30 witnesses.
During the trial, the court heard at least three Coquitlam district staff had warned Plehanov about inappropriate touching and interaction with students since 2007, long before the district investigated or the RCMP got involved.
Plehanov’s teaching certificate has been suspended since May 2010 and he is ineligible to teach in B.C.
The judge reserved his decision until late September or early November.
Source : theprovince