Edmonton Sun

December 16, 2000

Looks like a clear case of gender bias

By MINDELLE JACOBS -- Edmonton Sun

Oh, to get inside the heads of the jury members who acquitted teacher Jocelyn Jaster of sexually exploiting a 17-year-old student.

What could they have been thinking?

If jurors are a cross-section of our peers, does this mean society now deems it acceptable for any teacher to seduce a student?

Or does it mean it's only OK for female instructors to have affairs with students?

(If the genders were reversed and a male teacher had played kissy-face with a female student as a prelude to a hot summer affair, you can bet he would have been convicted.)

Perhaps the jury concluded teacher-student sex is cool as long as the student's in another class, as was the case in this matter.

We'll never know for sure. The deliberations of a Canadian jury are sacrosanct and protected from scrutiny forever, unlike in the U.S., where jurors freely explain the ins and outs of their decision-making as soon as the trial is over.

Did any of the nine female jurors in the Jaster case glance at the tall, strapping student, now 19, and wonder how he could have possibly been victimized by tiny, cute-as-a-button Jaster?

Did any of the three male jurors look at the pretty teacher and wish they'd scored when they were in high school?

Your guess is as good as mine.

All we know is that Jaster, now 28, gambled she'd have better luck with a jury instead of a judge and she won.

It's a good bet, though, that if she'd been tried by a judge alone she would have been convicted.

The Criminal Code section that deals with sexual exploitation is pretty clear. Anyone in a position of trust or authority over a young person aged 14 to 17 who does anything sexual with the teen can be jailed for up to five years.

Jaster wasn't teaching the teen with whom she had an affair in 1998. Nevertheless, she was working in the same small school in northeastern Alberta so she was clearly in a position of authority towards all the students.

Apparently the jury had a different view of what exactly constitutes a position of authority.

Even Jaster, who was married and became pregnant during the affair, knew all along that what she was doing was wrong.

She didn't want the school to know about her relationship with the student, the trial heard this week. Not surprisingly in a small town, school officials found out anyway.

"She didn't want to have a baby in jail," the student's mother testified.

After she was acquitted, Jaster conceded that "it was a stupid thing to do."

Her lawyer, Bob Aloneissi, argued the relationship was consensual and, therefore, there was no crime. He's wrong.

The petite teacher obviously didn't force the teenager she met at a school track meet into sex.

About a week after they met, he went to her classroom and she gave him a note expressing her unteacher-like interest and kissed him.

A summer of sex soon followed. The student later told police it was "a great summer."

Not the words you'd expect from a teen who felt like he was being exploited.

During the trial, however, he described the affair as "a horrible time." (He is suing Jaster, the school board and the principal for $150,000.)

Whether you suspect the teen is now trying to cash in on the episode is beside the point.

Jaster should not have been let off the hook because the sex was consensual. She crossed the line and should have been convicted.

As the school superintendent said afterwards: "I think it's a dangerous message if a teacher takes this ruling and says it makes it OK (to have sex with a student)."

Fortunately, the Alberta Teachers' Association took a dim view of Jaster's behaviour, revoking her teaching certificate last year for unprofessional conduct. The ATA also advised education departments across the country when she was expelled.

Nevertheless, the jury sided with Jaster. Men complain that women get off easy in court. In this case, they're right.

Copyright 2000, Canoe Limited Partnership.