Published on April 24, 2013
Flanked by supporters, former Prince Albert teacher Bonnie McLachlan emerges from the Court of Queen’s Bench on Wednesday after Chief Justice Martel Popescul handed her an 18-month conditional sentence for one count of sexual exploitation.
Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Published on April 24, 2013
Surrounded by supporters, former Prince Albert teacher Bonnie McLachlan (centre, wearing sunglasses) emerges from the Court of Queen’s Bench on Wednesday after Chief Justice Martel Popescul handed her an 18-month conditional sentence for one count of sexual exploitation.
Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Former teacher Bonnie McLachlan received an 18-month conditional sentence on Wednesday following her conviction last week on one count of sexual exploitation.
A jury found McLachlan guilty of engaging in a sexual relationship with one of her Grade 9 students at Queen Mary School during the 1993-94 school year.
For the duration of her sentence, McLachlan will not be able to leave the court jurisdiction without written permission.
She must report regularly to a supervisor -- including the route and method of transportation whenever she leaves home -- and is obliged to inform the court of any change in address or employment.
McLachlan’s name will be added to the National Sex Offender Registry and she will be required to comply with the Sex Offender Information Registry Act for 10 years.
She is forbidden from buying or consuming alcohol, must consent to random searches of her vehicle or residence and will have to submit a DNA sample.
Chief Justice Martel Popescul also ordered McLachlan to perform 200 hours of community service within the next year. In addition, she will be required to undergo counselling in regard to appropriate relationships.
For the most part, McLachlan will be confined to her home. Exceptions include medical emergencies, time spent at work, taking classes at an educational institution, attending religious services, appearing in court as required, performing community service and time spent travelling to and from the aforementioned places.
Upon the expiration of the conditional sentence, McLachlan will begin one year’s probation during which she must maintain good behaviour, remain in the court’s jurisdiction, notify a probation officer of any change in address and take counselling.
The ban on consuming alcohol will extend throughout the probation, while McLachlan will also have to pay a $100 victim surcharge.
Crown prosecutor Jennifer Claxton-Viczko appeared satisfied with the sentence.
“I think that the judge gave a well-thought out, very thorough decision on sentence,” she said.
“It wasn’t the sentence that the Crown was seeking, of course. We were seeking a period of incarceration. However, it was the judge’s view that the principles of denunciation and deterrence could be met with a conditional sentence order.”
The Crown had pushed for McLachlan to be incarcerated for two years less a day, while the defence advocated a conditional sentence.
Given the opportunity to speak before her sentencing, McLachlan thanked her family and friends for their support. She also thanked the judge for his consideration.
“This is a hard journey to walk,” she said, adding that she prayed God would give her wisdom.
Ultimately, the arguments of defence attorney Peter Abrametz appeared to sway Popescul as he handed down the conditional sentence to McLachlan.
While taking into account aggravating factors -- including McLachlan’s position of authority as a teacher, the fact that she and the complainant had a series of sexual encounters over a long time, their considerable age difference (McLachlan was 33 at the time of the offense while the complainant was 15), and the lack of remorse for her actions -- Popescul indicated that these were outweighed by a series of mitigating factors.
This is a hard journey to walk. Bonnie McLachlan
Among these were: McLachlan’s lack of a criminal record; the absence of force, threats or coercion in her case; McLachlan’s positive employment history up to her dismissal in May 2010; her ongoing health issues following cancer treatment; increased anxiety from undergoing two trials, due to a mistake by the original judge; extremely strong support from friends and family, as evidenced by the quantity and quality of support letters; living an “exemplary life” in the 19 years since the offense; and her low risk of re-offending again.
Popescul noted that while the lack of an apology, guilty plea or visible remorse was an aggravating factor, the public embarrassment McLachlan suffered during her lengthy trial process, as well as her lost livelihood as a teacher, could be considered adequate punishment.
The judge told McLachlan being branded a sex offender would be a more severe punishment “for a person of your status than any jail term.”
Emphasizing that the goal of punishment was to denounce and deter a crime, Popescul said that a strong message must be sent to teachers and adults in positions of authority that children are completely off-limits sexually.
Even in cases of older teenagers, he said, the law puts the responsibility on the adult not to abuse their position of power, rendering consent by the youth irrelevant.
Popescul said parents who send their kids to school should have the assurance that their children will not be sexually exploited.
As the judge explained her sentence, McLachlan could be seen wiping away tears.
Following the court’s adjournment, she remained in the Queen’s Bench courthouse for more than an hour before finally emerging surrounded by supporters, who escorted her straight into a waiting car that promptly drove away.
Assessing the day’s developments, Claxton-Viczko offered a measured response as to whether the case would continue on to higher courts.
“I will review that matter,” the Crown prosecutor said.
“I’ll review it with my colleagues, I’ll review it with the director of appeals just to review what we think of that decision. But at this time, I don’t have much further comment on it.”