National Post

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Tuesday, April 18, 2000

Teen lover in court to comfort teacher who 'exploited' him
Janet Steffenhagen
The Vancouver Sun


Keith Thirkell, National Post
Heather Ingram pleaded guilty yesterday to sexual exploitation for having sex with a student. The student accompanied her to court, but may not be identified because he was 17 at the time of the offence.

SECHELT, B.C. - Former school teacher Heather Ingram stifled tears and clung to her teenage lover yesterday after quietly pleading guilty to having had sex with him when he was her student.

Ingram, 30, and the young man, who is now 18 but may not be identified because he was 17 when their affair began, appeared rattled but said nothing before or after her brief appearance in British Columbia provincial court.

Ingram, a mathematics, science and business teacher, was charged with sexual exploitation.

Sentencing was set for May 29 for what Ingram's lawyer, Bill Smart, described as a victimless crime. He said the young man was a sophisticated and willing player who has had sexual relationships since he was 14, and is now her live-in partner.

Although the age of sexual consent is 14, it is a crime for a person in a position of authority, such as a teacher, to have sexual relations with a charge who is under 18.

The affair, which began in January, 1999, cost Ingram her job as a junior but talented teacher at Chatelech Secondary School and ended her 12-year common-law marriage to a man four years her senior.

It also brought her unwelcome public attention in this small town on the Sunshine Coast, northwest of Vancouver, which intensified this week when it was revealed that her boyfriend has been charged with having sex with a 13-year-old girl last October.

That was the same month Ingram's world fell apart. A fellow teacher at Chatelech, whom she had trusted with secrets of the affair as well as illicit drug use with the boy, ordered her to confess to the principal or she would report her.

She had confided in the other teacher because she was worried about her lover's reaction to having just discovered that she had also had a sexual relationship with his 18-year-old friend.

As soon as Clifford Smith, the school superintendent, was apprised of the affair, he suspended Ingram.

Now retired, Mr. Smith expressed dismay yesterday that the community has been divided over whether Ingram's behaviour was wrong.

"What I have discovered personally is that the moral ground on which we base the commonly held values that you see reflected in schools and school policies is much shakier than we ever imagined."

The B.C. College of Teachers is reviewing the case, as they always do in such instances, to determine whether Ingram, a star high school student who graduated from the University of British Columbia at the top of her class, should be stripped of her teaching certificate.

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