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90 days or 18 months in jail? Judge hears final arguments in Sarnia high school teacher’s sex trial

A Sarnia high school teacher will soon find out what his sentence will be for sexually assaulting and sexually exploiting a former student at his school, although there's a chance one of those convictions could be stayed.

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A Sarnia high school teacher will soon find out what his sentence will be for sexually assaulting and sexually exploiting a former student at his school, although there’s a chance one of those convictions could be stayed.

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Tyler Shaw, a 36-year-old Great Lakes physics teacher, was charged in September 2020. The Chatham native and Sarnia resident pleaded not guilty to both charges this past fall but was found guilty in a border-city courtroom in early November following a three-day trial.

As the case returned to court Wednesday for sentencing arguments, assistant Crown attorney Aniko Coughlan asked for 12 to 18 months in jail. Defence lawyer Phillip Millar countered with 90 days behind bars – the mandatory minimum for a sexual-exploitation conviction – or potentially even house arrest. Additionally, one of the two convictions should also be conditionally stayed due to the Kienapple principle, the defence argued.

The Kienapple principle is a Supreme Court of Canada ruling against multiple convictions for offences involving the same physical evidence.

Justice Kevin McHugh adjourned the case to think about the arguments. A final sentencing date will be picked in two weeks.

As for the Crown’s year-plus proposal, Coughlan said there could be an “alarming” impact on the local community if a lesser sentence is imposed.

“Parents and loved ones of those young people should not have to worry about their children being subjected to adult teachers who engage in relationships such as this,” Coughlan said.

The teen testified the pair’s relationship escalated physically over five secret hangouts between April and July 2020, culminating in two separate consensual sex acts in Shaw’s parked SUV around or shortly after the time she graduated.

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Following the trial, McHugh found Shaw was in a position of trust, power or authority during their first three meetings, which involved just handholding, kissing or cuddling, when she was still a registered student at the Murphy Road school. The judge said that meant he was guilty of sexual assault and also sexual exploitation by using his hands for a sexual purpose.

Millar contended Wednesday the conduct prior to her graduation was “relatively minor, courting-type” behaviour. The London-based lawyer also pointed out there was no evidence of grooming or predatory behaviour, saying his client wasn’t using his position of authority to elicit sex.

Additionally, he’d already lost his job as a “respected” teacher in the Sarnia area, along with his marriage and regular access to his children, Millar said.

“Jail will do no benefit for Mr. Shaw,” he said. “The denunciation is clear in that he’s lost a million-dollar job, lost his family.”

The teen, whose identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban, declined to give the Crown a victim-impact statement. It wasn’t clear if she participated in Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, which was held via Zoom.

Shaw apologized to her and her family, as well as his family and friends, as he read from a previously prepared statement.

“I would like to accept responsibility for my choices in engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a former student,” he said. “I never intended for things to develop the way that they did.”

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Both lawyers and the judge previously referenced a pre-sentence report, which noted Shaw hadn’t taken responsibility for what occurred.

“To date, Mr. Shaw has taken minimal acceptance or responsibility for his actions,” Coughlan argued.

Shaw’s version of what happened also differed from the victim’s. He admitted only to a single sexual encounter with the former student in his SUV after she graduated. Nothing else intentional happened the previous four times, Shaw testified.

But McHugh found Shaw’s evidence to be “self-serving, disingenuous, contrived – and at times intentionally false.” He also previously said the conduct of Shaw, who is more than twice the victim’s age, was “precisely” what this section of the Criminal Code was designed to stop.

Shaw said Wednesday he lost a career he loved, has been “crippled” financially, and his reputation has been “destroyed” by media coverage of the case.

“I understand the court’s obligation in this matter, but I hope you take into consideration the heavy price that’s already been paid,” he said to the judge.

A final sentencing date wasn’t selected Wednesday, but McHugh said it will be in person in a Sarnia courtroom and not via Zoom due to the possibility of jail time.

A short note was posted on the Lambton Kent District school board’s website shortly after the initial verdict informing students and their families. A school board spokesperson said they can’t comment on the situation since it’s personal employee information.

An Ontario College of Teachers spokesperson confirmed Shaw is “suspended for non-payment of fees” and is barred from teaching at any public schools throughout the province.

Shaw said Wednesday he had found part-time employment in a different industry.

tbridge@postmedia.com

@ObserverTerry

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