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Tuesday, May 30, 2000

Ingram will not go to jail for sex with student
Former B.C. teacher receives 10-month conditional sentence
Ian Bailey
National Post

Keith Thirkell, National Post
Heather Ingram says she is a stronger person after having been tried and sentenced for sexually exploiting a former student. Ingram and the student she was found guilty of exploiting remain in a relationship.

SECHELT, B.C. - Heather Ingram, the teacher who had a sexual relationship with her 17-year-old accounting student, knew she was doing something wrong, but didn't think it was illegal.

"I understood there was a consequence for my behaviour. I understood a person in a position of power should not have a relationship with a student. But I did not know it was a criminal offence," she said in an interview yesterday after she was given a 10-month conditional sentence for her affair.

Ingram, 30, says she is a stronger person after having been tried and sentenced for sexually exploiting the youth, and that her relationship with him will endure.

"We have a really strong bond together. I learn things from him. He teaches me things I haven't necessarily experienced. I had a limited and sheltered experience. He has a strong, healthy approach to life that I admire ... To people who know us, we're a normal couple."

The youth turns 19 next month. In a separate matter, he has been charged with having sex with a 13-year-old girl, and is scheduled to appear in court next month.

"We have processed this in our relationship," Ingram said. "It is minor. We love each other."

Yesterday, the youth -- sporting a neatly trimmed goatee, white sweater and white jeans -- stood by his former teacher, his arm slung over her shoulder as she delivered a brief statement.

"I've had a tremendous opportunity over the last eight months," said Ingram, subdued after the hearing that left her briefly in tears when Judge Shirley Giroday hinted she would send her to jail.

"I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned a lot about our society ... I have a stronger family. I am stronger person."

Ingram's career as a teacher ended last October after she revealed she had been having sex with one of her accounting students at Chatelech secondary school. The affair began on Jan. 15, when he went to her home to watch videos.

Ingram pleaded guilty last month to the charge of sexual exploitation. According to the Criminal Code, it is illegal for an adult to have a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old over whom they have authority. This is one of three high-profile cases recently in British Columbia involving allegations of female teachers and male students.

Judge Giroday bundled her conditional sentence with a series of restrictions that essentially mean Ingram will only be able to leave her home for work -- she is a bookkeeper and office administrator at an environmental firm -- for medical appointments and for meetings with her probation officer.

"It's really important that people understand this is, in effect, a house arrest," her lawyer Bill Smart said outside court. "Instead of us paying for her to be in a jail, she's able to go to work."

Judge Giroday said a message had to be sent to deter inappropriate conduct between teachers and students.

Mr. Smart conceded most "right-thinking" people would see his client's conduct as wrong, but that she had been punished enough by the loss of her career, her criminal record and negative publicity.

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