Teacher found not criminally responsible for sex with teen student — (Vancouver Sun)

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Vancouver Sun

By Lori Coolican, Postmedia News

February 4, 2011

A Saskatchewan teacher has been found not criminally responsible for having sex with a 15-year-old former student.

Photograph by: Joe Raedle, Getty Images

SASKATOON ­ Family and supporters of a teacher from Shell Lake, Sask., sighed with relief in a Saskatoon courtroom Friday after a judge declared her not criminally responsible, due to mental illness, for a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old former student.

Michelle Francoeur was in an extreme “manic state” and lacked the capacity to make rational decisions when she agreed to have sex with the teen boy on several occasions between Sept. 1 and Nov. 20, 2008, Queen’s Bench Justice Duane Koch found.

“The criminal law does not want to punish people who were suffering a mental disorder at the time of the act,” Crown prosecutor Mitch Piche said outside court.

Francoeur was charged with sexual touching, sexual exploitation and sexual assault against the teen, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, after RCMP received a complaint in December 2008.

She was suspended from her job at the Shell Lake school while the case was before the court.

According to a statement of facts agreed upon by the Crown and defence, during the summer of 2008 Francoeur was mistakenly diagnosed with major depression and prescribed an anti-depressant drug known as Effexor. During the next few months, she underwent a radical change.

Francoeur actually has bipolar disorder rather than depression ­ and Effexor is known to escalate the “manic” phase experienced by people with bipolarism, which is characterized by extreme feelings of elation, euphoria, racing thoughts, inability to sleep and difficulty appreciating consequences, court heard.

Although she had previously been a very light drinker, Francoeur started using alcohol excessively, Piche told court. She spent money in careless ways, went days without sleep and ate irregularly, losing significant amounts of weight. She talked excessively and took uncharacteristic shortcuts in caring for her daughters, who were five and seven years old.

The changes concerned her family members, who sent a letter to Francoeur’s doctor about the situation.

The boy had been in Francoeur’s class the previous school year, but no longer attended the school where she taught. They had exchanged text messages once that summer and one night in October he sent her a flirtatious text that resulted in their first sexual encounter, Piche said.

Several more incidents followed, until the boy’s mother discovered the situation.

Defence lawyer Aaron Fox noted Franceour would likely not have been charged with a crime had the incidents happened six months earlier, before changes to the Criminal Code raised the legal age of consent for sexual activity from 14 to 16.

Shell Lake is 175 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

lcoolican@thestarphoenix.com