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Vancouver Island teacher gets probation for sexual assault

Nov 20 2011

A former Port Alberni teacher and track coach has been sentenced to 24 months probation for sexually assaulting a nine-year-old girl.

The crime committed by Gary Nicholas Semchuk, 59, occurred in the 1986-87 school year, but was reported in 2008. At a trial in B.C. Supreme Court, held before Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon this summer, Semchuk was found guilty.

A sentencing hearing was held Oct. 14. Fenlon reserved judgment. Her decision on the sentence was made public Wednesday.

In spring 1987, the victim, then a Grade 3 student, was participating in a lunchtime "run-for-fun" event.

She was winded at the finish line and bent over, struggling to catch her breath when Semchuk came up behind her and told her to breathe deeply, Fenlon said in her reasons.

The victim had developed breasts early and wore a bra. "She could feel his legs pressing against her as his arms came around from behind and rubbed her back and shoulders, trying to get her to straighten up, which she was resisting," Fenlon said.

The victim felt Semchuk's hands move onto her chest: "It was not a mere grazing or a touch, but rather rubbing of her breasts," said Fenlon.

"The rubbing lasted for only a few seconds. He used both hands. - It made her feel very uncomfortable and, in her words, felt like an eternity."

Semchuk was born and raised in Port Alberni, where he spent his 30-year career teaching children in Grades 3 to 5.

"He was, by all accounts, an exceptionally talented and effective teacher who cared passionately about his students and brought out the best in them," said Fenlon.

Semchuk left his job in July 2008 and moved to Qualicum Beach. He and his family have experienced the stigma that comes with sex-related charges.

Semchuk has become withdrawn, the court heard.

The aggravating factors in this case include Semchuk being in a position of trust and that the child was only nine.

The mitigating factors include the fact that Semchuk lost his job and a significant amount of his pension, Fenlon said.

He also lost his social and professional standing, and the public censure forced him to move out of Port Alberni. Semchuk also faces disciplinary proceedings by the College of Teachers.

The victim said she became more introverted following the assault and found it hard to be alone with men.

The maximum penalty for sexual assault is 10 years imprisonment. There is no minimum penalty. Incarceration was not required, due to Semchuk isolating himself from youth, Fenlon said.

Semchuk is prohibited from contacting the victim or her family. He is also prohibited from being in the company of any girl under 16 without written consent of her parent or guardian. Semchuk has also been ordered to take counselling as directed by his probation officer.

He will be added to the national sex offender registry for the next 20 years and must provide a DNA sample.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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