National Post

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Wednesday, April 26, 2000

'They are a couple and proud of it'
Marriage broke up
Ian Bailey
National Post

Murray Mitchell, National Post
FROM FOSTER MOTHER TO LESBIAN LOVER: Candice Prince, left, walks alongside Valerie Hetu as the two leave the Kamloops Law Courts yesterday. Hetu is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of sexual exploitation. She and Prince began a relationship while Prince was living in her home as a 16-year-old foster child.

KAMLOOPS, B.C. - Valerie Hetu did not realize she was a lesbian until a 16-year-old girl came to live in her home as a foster child. A relationship with the teenager led to the breakup of her marriage, a conviction for sexual exploitation and a new life with her former foster daughter.

"They are a couple and proud of it," said Alexander Watt, lawyer for Ms. Hetu, who is raising an eight-year-old child, the son of her former husband, with her new partner.

The judge, who heard sentencing arguments in the case yesterday, said he needs more time to decide what punishment the 32-year-old mother should receive for falling in love with the younger woman -- now 18 -- and put the case over until May 3.

Ms. Hetu was convicted largely on the strength of one kiss from her foster daughter, which was witnessed one night around Christmas, 1998, by her husband.

Doug Hetu, a logging truck driver, told his wife's one-day trial last month that he "freaked out" at the sight of the pair kissing on the couch of their home in this community about 400 kilometres east of Vancouver in B.C.'s rugged interior.

Doug Hetu said he gave his wife a choice: him or the girl.

Yesterday, Ms. Hetu left the court holding hands with Candice Prince, her former foster daughter, both dressed in similar black jackets and slacks. They smiled for photographers tracking their moves around the downtown court building.

"They have decided they can have a caring, loving relationship with each other -- raise Ms. Hetu's child," Mr. Watt told Judge William Sundhu. "They're tired of hiding, and they refuse to hide any further."

To Judge Sundhu, the 1998 kiss -- key evidence in the case -- was for "the giving and receiving of pleasure." The Crown's case was also helped by testimony from a friend of Ms. Hetu, who said the woman told her she was committed to the relationship.

As Mr. Watt explained, the kiss was the start of a new life for Ms. Hetu. "When the kiss took place, [it] became absolutely clear to Ms. Hetu that her feelings of sexuality were coming to the forefront and she wanted a relationship with [the foster daughter], and she wanted a relationship with her," said Mr. Watt.

He said Ms. Prince knew she was a lesbian, but Ms. Hetu did not.

Mr. Watt urged Judge Sundhu to grant his client an absolute discharge, noting that no one complained about the pair's conduct and that they refrained from entering into a full-fledged romantic relationship until the young woman was no longer under Ms. Hetu's care.

Ms. Prince left the foster home by April, 1999.

Jonathan Oliphant, the Crown prosecutor in the Hetu case, said it is wrong for teachers, foster parents or others with authority to enter into sexual relationships with youth in their care.

"This case is not about lesbian relationships or anything of that sort," Mr. Oliphant told Judge Sundhu. "It is purely about the abuse of a position of trust."

Mr. Oliphant has also ruled out jail time for Ms. Hetu, proposing a suspended sentence, probation and between 100 and 200 hours of community service.

In submissions to Judge Sundhu yesterday, he noted that Ms. Hetu does not have a criminal record and cannot afford to pay a fine.

Ms. Hetu declined to comment yesterday, but allowed her lawyer to explain that she lives on a pension and does not work.

Ms. Hetu and Ms. Prince first met at church in the fall of 1998. Ms. Hetu approached the Ministry of Children and Family Services seeking permission to become a foster parent to the girl, who had been in government care for more than a year. The ministry considered her a high-risk youth. She was on probation for car theft and officials feared she was using drugs and alcohol.

She moved into the Hetu household in November, 1998, and their relationship developed until they kissed at Christmas.

Judge Sundhu said the kiss was the only evidence of sexual involvement between the two, but added that circumstances described in court suggest they were in a relationship for a longer period of time.

Mr. Oliphant conceded that the teenager's behaviour improved while in Ms. Hetu's care. But while Mr. Oliphant acknowledged that the girl is now in a better situation, a crime had still been committed.

"Ms. Hetu's role was to provide guidance, not sexual gratification."

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