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A teacher in West Kelowna, B.C., who had sex with a student is emotionally immature and drawn to nerdy kids, a psychologist has told a sentencing hearing.

Bradley Furman accepted rides from teenagers, talked to them on social media and generally related better to adolescents than adults, Dr. Matthew Burnett testified Tuesday.

“He did report a special connection to students who were nerdy, or outcasts or struggling a little bit,” Burnett said at Furman’s sentencing hearing in Kelowna. “He connects better with adolescents than he does with adults, going to his maturity level.”

Even after Furman was arrested in May 2018, the former high school teacher at Mount Boucherie Senior Secondary was oddly optimistic despite the gravity of his situation.

“He had a view of things that seemed overly optimistic given the reality,” Burnett said. “The overall impression he gave was quite positive given the circumstances at the time.”

Burnett testified he would have expected someone in Furman’s situation to be more unsettled or distressed. It was like Furman was in a “mild type of denial” about what was going on, Burnett said.

Furman, 30, has pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation for having repeated sexual encounters in the spring of 2018 with a Grade 12 student who was 17 years old. Many of the sex acts occurred in the portable classroom where Furman taught.

Crown counsel David Grabavac is seeking a sentence for Furman of nearly six years.

Defence lawyer Claire Hatcher said outside the courtroom she would be asking for a significantly lighter sentence.

Furman’s behaviour toward his teenage victim demonstrated elements of “psychological coercion,” Burnett said, agreeing with Grabavac’s suggestion that the list included such things as sharing intimate secrets with the girl, telling her she was a special student, complimenting her body and fashion choices, and even asking her for marital advice.

He resisted use of the term “grooming,” however, when it was put to him by Grabavac.

“There are very few studies on this phenomenon and they’re not well done,” Burnett said. “ ‘Grooming’ is more of a lay term.”

Furman’s sexual relationship with the girl began during spring break in 2018, escalated quickly and was discovered by school administrators in May of that year. Their attention was drawn when Furman and the girl were observed walking inappropriately close together down a hallway. Communications of a sexual nature were found on the girl’s phone and the police were called.

Based on his evaluation of Furman, Burnett said he considered him to be an average risk to commit further sexual offences. Between five and 15 per cent of all sex offenders will commit another sex crime within five years of being released from prison, Burnett said. He put Furman’s chances at 5.6 per cent and said he was “hopeful” Furman would respond well to treatment in prison.

Under questioning from Hatcher, Burnett said Furman does not demonstrate any sign of mental illness or drug addiction.

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