Sexual touching alleged at several SD43 schools
Incidents of inappropriate touching of students by former Coquitlam substitute teacher Aleksandr Plehanov started soon after he began teaching in School District 43 in 2007, alleged the prosecution at the first day of his trial yesterday (Tuesday).
"Things happened before 2010 but the schools had chosen not to report it to the police," said Crown Counsel Wendy Van Tongeren Harvey in her opening statements at Port Coquitlam provincial court.
Harvey cited incidents at Eagle Ridge, Hazel Trembath and Leigh elementary schools in which fellow teachers and/or principals talked to Plehanov about touching students. A human resources employee with the school district also spoke to him as a result of an investigation at a SD43 school.
Plehanov is facing charges of sexual interference and sexual assault involving five students who were aged seven and eight at the time of the alleged incidents in 2010. He is also charged with criminal harassment in connection with actions that took place in June 2010 and involved one of the families of the alleged victims.
In court, Harvey stated each of the students reported being touched by "Mr. P," as he was known, and it was the Crown's assertion that the touching was indeed sexual in nature, in some cases dramatically so. The children have stated they were touched in the crotch area as well as on the buttocks, hips, chest and legs, according to the prosecution.
On March 10, 2010, the parents of one girl called Coquitlam RCMP after she told them Mr. P was "gross." When her mother asked her what had happened the girl, an eight-year-old Grade 3 student at Glen elementary at the time, said he had touched her "bum and crotch area," Harvey said in her opening statements.
The girl's father testified Tuesday afternoon that when his daughter came home she was crying because she was worried her mother would have to talk to the school's principal, Derek Passaglia.
"I reassured her that whatever happened it wasn't her fault," the father testified. The two then went into his office, where he asked the girl to demonstrate exactly what had happened, "because they were serious allegations and I wanted to be sure there was no misunderstanding," the father said.
When they couldn't reach anyone at the school the parents contacted police. Before an officer arrived at their home they also contacted parents of fellow students their daughter had mentioned as she recounted the alleged incident, the court heard.
The girl's mother testified she had also spoken to a friend, whose daughter attended Bramblewood elementary, and was told a similar incident involving Plehanov had allegedly happened at that school but police had not been contacted.
She also testified that her younger daughter told a friend the police had been to her house; the friend relayed the information to her mother and allegedly reported she had also been touched by Plehanov.
The mother of the Glen elementary student also testified during her cross-examination that her daughter has been afraid to see Plehanov and, for several weeks after the alleged incident, she suffered from anxiety and had difficulty sleeping.
In response to questions from defence lawyer Lisa Helps around what was considered acceptable touching of children, the mother stated their family considered hugging among family members was appropriate but sitting on an adult's knee would be acceptable only if a parent was present.
Passaglia was set to testify Tuesday afternoon, after the Tri-City News' deadline. Testimony from some of the students involved in the alleged incidents is expected later this week.
The trial continues.