A “disgraced and humiliated” former Catholic school teacher was handed a conditional discharge Tuesday after pleading guilty to a single count of sexual assault against five young girls.
Jared Eszczuk, 44, of Rocky Mountain House was placed on probation for a year in addition to other sanctions when he appeared in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench.
Crown prosecutor Robin Fiander withdrew 13 other sex-related charges against the accused at what would have been the first day of a four-week trial before Justice Kirk Sisson.
The single count conviction stands for all five victims, court heard.
Half filled with the young victims and their families and friends, court heard Eszczuk patted, grabbed and rubbed the buttocks of the girls who were between the ages of 11-12 during the period of Nov. 1, 2006, and June 20, 2007, at St. Matthew School in Rocky.
A publication ban was imposed on the victims’ identity or any information that could identify them.
Eszczuk, who taught at the school for 11 years, including a two-year term as a vice-principal, was warned often by fellow teachers and school administration to stop displaying too much affection toward his students.
Fiander said the accused was issued a letter of reprimand by the Red Deer Catholic School district on April 13, 2007, to cease his actions.
Sisson heard the accused often touched young girls with hugs and similar actions in full view of staff and other students.
An imposing man standing about 1.91 metres (six feet three inches) tall and weighing about 95 kg (210 pounds), Eszczuk apologized to his victims and their families.
“I want to express my apology to the family and the complainants. I hope they accept and know I’m truly sorry,” said Eszczuk, who was dressed in a dark blazer and dark grey slacks.
Both Fiander and defence lawyer Brian Vail in their agreed statement of facts said that although the touching was a crime, the accused did not touch them for a sexual purpose.
A conditional discharge can only be ordered when the accused has been convicted of a crime. The disposition is however intended to avoid some of the harmful consequences of a conviction.
If the accused lives up to the conditions he won’t have a criminal record.
He must also surrender a sample of his DNA and perform 70 hours of community service.
He must seek counselling if ordered by his probation officer.
The sentence was a joint Crown and defence proposal.
Vail said a psychiatrist who interviewed and made a report on the accused indicated he was not a pedophile.
The court received 12 victim impact statements including several which were read by the victims and Fiander.
Several parents indicated their children have suffered immense mental and even physical harm.
Stress, depression, suicidal thoughts and physical ailments have been endured by many of them. A father said he’s afraid to even hug his daughter for fear of upsetting her because he’s a man.
Parents said their children suffered greatly at school through ridicule, taunting and bullying.
A few of them left the school while others are afraid to even go out for fear of running into Eszczuk on the streets of Rocky — a town of about 7,200.
Sisson said it was apparent the town has suffered a “schism” since the events were made known.
Eszczuk still has many supporters who wrote letters of reference.
Sisson said an aggravating factor was the accused was warned both verbally many times and by a written reprimand to stop his conduct, but he persisted.
He said it was clear the accused has been publicly humiliated.
Paulette Hanna, superintendent of Catholic schools, said later she was pleased the matter was over.
“It’s been a very trying time for everyone.”
She said the process will hopefully give the victims some closure.
She said the district, which terminated Eszczuk following his initial arrest and charges, would “absolutely not” hire him back.
Vail said Eszczuk will now have a disciplinary hearing by the Alberta Teachers Association to determine if his teaching licence should be revoked in Alberta.
That had been on hold pending the outcome of the court case.
Hanna said the district “followed due diligence” when it issued Eszczuk a reprimand letter.
She said all teachers need to be held to a “high level of ethics in that you do not cross the line.”
She said St. Matthew officials did a “good job” of warning Eszczuk.
Vail told court Eszczuk had a “physical, affectionate teaching style’ which involved touching students.
However, he said his client realizes his actions and behaviour “violated the integrity of the victims.”