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In a recent appearance in town, federal Justice Minister Vic Toews mused that B.C. is a good place to be a criminal because of the lenient sentences handed down by judges here.

As it turns out, it's not a bad place to be a teacher either, especially if you have a fondness for having sexual relations with students.

Two decisions by the B.C. Court of Appeal that reduced the professional penalties issued against teachers who had sex with students now has the B.C. College of Teachers considering lowering its standards for professional misconduct in this area.

Yes, you read that right. The college was too harsh, the court ruled in separate appeals by the teachers, when it revoked their teaching certificates for having sex with students. The court imposed retroactive suspensions instead.

It gets even better.

In one case, Patrice Mitchell was 26 and teaching in Vancouver when she had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old ESL student in the 1980s. The affair wasn't revealed until years later when the boy, by then a young man, filed a complaint.

In 1998, a jury acquitted Ms. Mitchell of charges of gross indecency and sexual assault. The trial was told that the sex was consensual, and that while the age of consent is 18 when one of the people involved is in a position of authority, Ms. Mitchell was not the boy's teacher when the affair began.

In its decision, the Court of Appeal recognized this fact and further noted that the two had had a "loving relationship."

In the other case, David Young was a 26-year-old teacher in Chilliwack when he began a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female student in the 1990s. The Court of Appeal ruled that Mr. Young's was not the kind of case that warranted the revocation of his teaching licence because, in part, there were only 10 years separating the two, the affair had been accepted by the girl's mother and there was low risk of such a relationship occurring again.

Last week, The Vancouver Sun disclosed that Mr. Young, now 35, is being investigated by the college again. Why? For allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old student while teaching at a Williams Lake high school. He resigned after the allegations were revealed earlier this year.

Okay, call me prudish, call me out of touch, but I don't believe teachers should be having sex with students. Period. To my mind, there is no such thing as extenuating circumstances.

Think about this: according to Marie Kerchum, registrar for the B.C. College of Teachers, decisions such as the two rendered by the Court of Appeal have a profound impact on future actions by the certification board.

The penalties the college imposes are shaped and governed by precedent established in court. So when a high-level court like the B.C. Court of Appeal tells the college to back off, then the college has no choice but to do just that.

So, in one of these cases at least, the court arrived at its decision in part because the mother of the 16-year-old girl approved of the relationship with the teacher. Are you kidding me? I'm sorry, but I don't think that mother represents the attitude of 0.000001 per cent of mothers of 16-year-old daughters out there. Maybe less than that.

And to suggest the case involving the 14-year-old boy was somehow mitigated by the fact that the relationship was a "loving" one, I mean, how ridiculous can you get? I'm sure the hormone-crazed teen "loved" having sex with his teacher. But I doubt he understood the long-term implications of his actions for a second.

It was a complete violation of the sacred trust that is absolutely essential between a teacher and student. And when that trust is broken by the teacher, discipline shouldbe as severe as possible.

It's not like teachers here and in the rest of Canada don't know what the rules say. They are explicit. There will be no sexual relationship of any kind with a student. None.

What I don't understand is why the college, or the provincial Ministry of Education, can't simply say that if you have sex with a student you will have your teaching certificate revoked. No exceptions.

In British Columbia, if teachers have their certificates revoked for sexual misconduct with a student, they can apply to be reinstated after two years, if they can prove they have done something to address the problem they created for themselves.

A recent Leger Marketing poll found the majority of Canadians agreed with the Conservative government's conviction that sex under the age of 16 is wrong. That belief was strongest in B.C., where 71 per cent said it was immoral.

Spokespeople for B.C. school boards and parents groups that I talked to about these court decisions are stunned. And worried. And they're hoping someone steps into the breach to protect students everywhere.

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