Airdrie teacher charged with sexual exploitation expresses remorse
Former Airdrie high school teacher John Christopher Miller expressed remorse for his actions in Airdrie Provincial Court on Oct. 10 while on trial for charges of sexual assault and sexual exploitation of one of his former students.
Miller, a 36-year-old former teacher at George McDougall High School was arrested and charged in October 2012 after it was alleged that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female student. He was arrested again in December for breach of recognizance after he went to the school in an attempt to contact the student.
Miller was offered the opportunity to address the courtroom and he read from a prepared speech, expressing the shame and remorse he felt.
“I take ownership for my actions and I have been living with a great deal of guilt,” said Miller. “I apologize to the school and the community for any damage I’ve caused, I will miss teaching. I apologize to the victim for any pain and disturbance I’ve caused to her life, and I apologize to the mother of the victim.
“To my wife and children I’m sorry, I am taking the steps needed and acknowledging that I need to change. I know that rebuilding my marriage will take time; I will allow the victim to move on unhindered and I can’t bear the thought of causing her this pain again.”
Crown Prosecutor Richelle Freiheit provided Provincial Court Judge John Bascom with an agreed upon statement of facts, as well as a doctor’s report of a psychiatric evaluation of Miller, conducted by Dr. Perry Sirota.
Miller voluntarily entered guilty pleas to charges of sexual exploitation and breach of condition. He sat next to his attorney Steve Eichler, while his wife, family and friends looked on from the gallery.
Freiheit read the agreed upon statement, recounting the relationship between Miller and the student, from its inception to the time of his arrest and the aftermath, including a downward spiral into depression and attempted suicide, as well as sending cell phone photos to the student of his cut and bandaged wrists.
“The accused was (the student’s) school teacher in 2010/2011. While he was not her teacher in 2011/2012, he would tutor her in biology on lunch hours,” said Freiheit.
“This private tutoring was done with (the student’s) mother’s knowledge. During tutoring sessions the accused and the student would talk about various topics including her boyfriend, clothes, school, music, etc; however, they began sharing personal information and the accused would talk about his wife, kids, his troubled childhood and adulthood.”
The details of Miller’s past were brought forward, through the psychiatric evaluation report, which outlined instances of abuse as a child and, “an inability to cope with his demons” according to Sirota’s report.
According to the report, Miller felt embarrassment, shame and remorse for his actions, and that he was concerned about cheating on his wife and the impact that this has had on his family, he wants to spare the name of the student from going to court but he is more focused on the harm to his wife and less on (the student).
The details of the agreed statement of facts as read by Freiheit included Miller hiring the student to babysit his children towards the end of the school year in 2011/2012.
“The accused and (the student) kissed for the first time in late June 2012, after exams but still during the school year,” said Freiheit. “In late July 2012, the accused and (the student) had sexual encounters beyond kissing, at this point she was 17 years of age. The accused and student had intercourse four or five times.”
The contact between Miller and the student began when she was 16 years old and Freiheit contested that he had used his position of trust in more than one instance, including as a teacher and an employer, and his affect on the student were aggravating factors.
“There is no exact number of times but this was not just a one-time sexual contact,” said Freiheit.
“The fact that he did not stop on his own is aggravating; she was a child at the time and the affect on her is aggravating, this can lead to a severe emotional impact and mirroring behaviour, this is a foundation of how she will see love and he has potentially continued this cycle.”
According to the Canadian Department of Justice, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16 years.
However, the age of consent is 18 years where the sexual activity “exploits” the young person -- when it involves prostitution, pornography or occurs in a relationship of authority, trust or dependency (i.e., with a teacher, coach or babysitter).
Freiheit indicated that the Crown would be seeking a sentence of four-and-a-half years incarceration. Eichler contested that a sentence of between 24 and 26 months was appropriate, stating that Miller is already saddled with lifelong consequences.
“The steps have been taken through the Alberta Schools Act to ensure that he (Miller) will (never) teach ever again,” said Eichler.
“This is a loss of a career and a lifelong consequence.”
Eichler cautioned that the lines not be blurred when weighing the charges against his client, and to differentiate between sexual exploitation and sexual assault.
“Sexual assault is a crime of violence and neither of these (sexual assault and sexual exploitation) is an included offense of the other,” said Eichler. “We can’t say that because of sexual contact that this is sexual assault, it’s a breach of trust, not a crime of violence.”
In Alberta, the starting point for a major sexual assault upon a minor by a person in a position of trust, is four years in accordance with Section 271 of the Canadian Criminal Code.
A person who is guilty of an indictable offense under Section 153 (Sexual Exploitation) is liable to serve a minimum sentence of one year and a maximum of 10 years.
Eichler said he knew that Miller would serve a prison sentence, but suggested that sentencing for his breach of condition be concurrent to his other offenses as opposed to consecutive.
Judge Bascom weighed the suggestion, but countered that the offenses were separate.
“In terms of breaches of condition, they are to require consecutive sentences, whether it be a fine or a short consecutive term,” said Bascom.
Judge Bascom delayed sentencing until the morning of Nov. 29.