Teacher not guilty of sex assault charges

Jury acquits defendant of all counts, but his lawyer says he may never return to teaching

Nov 28, 2007 04:30 AM

Courts Bureau

A teacher found not guilty of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old student is so traumatized by the false allegations that he may never set foot in a classroom again, said his defence lawyer yesterday.

A jury acquitted veteran francophone elementary school teacher Paul Senecal, 49, on Monday night of all eight counts with which he had been charged.

He and his family have been "scarred for life" by the case, said his lawyer Aitan Lerner.

After a 23-year career as a dedicated teacher, Senecal was suspended from his teaching job without pay, court was told.

The jury was shown a 2005 videotaped statement by the girl, then 13, claiming Senecal sexually assaulted her on four occasions in May and June of 2005.

But in a previous statement, also shown in court, the student only mentioned one incident.

The father of five was charged with four counts of sex assault and four of sexual interference involving the Grade 7 student at the francophone École élémentaire Félix-Leclerc, near Kipling Ave. and Dixon Rd.

Crown prosecutor Robert Kenny said yesterday the case was one person's word against the other. The jury paid close attention to the evidence, he said.

The complainant, who is now 15 and cannot be named, admitted she once had a crush on Senecal and left a message on his phone saying she loved him.

Senecal's wife phoned the student to tell her the message was not appropriate, court was told.

The embarrassed girl dreaded facing the teacher again the following fall, the defence argued.

So she decided to lodge a sexual complaint to make sure he would have to leave the school, Lerner suggested.

She told police that in June 2005 Senecal touched her breasts over her bra after he followed her into a classroom during a Saturday music practice.

But after seeing an Oprah TV show detailing a sexual assault of a young person by a trusted adult, she adopted that story line to expand the number of alleged incidents.

She related these additional incidents in a second statement to police in September 2005, Lerner said.

An emotional Senecal adamantly denied her charges. "None of this happened," he testified.