HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s highest court has upheld the convictions of a former teacher who sexually abused two teenage students.
Amy Hood of Stellarton, N.S., was found guilty in April 2016 of sexual touching, sexual exploitation and luring minors for a sexual purpose.
Hood admitted she abused the male students, aged 15 and 17 at the time, but argued she should be found not criminally responsible because she was suffering from bipolar mood disorder at the time.
She was given a 15-month conditional sentence by provincial court Judge Del Atwood, who found the mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail to be grossly disproportionate in this case.
The former Grade 6 teacher at Thorburn Consolidated School in Thorburn, N.S., appealed her conviction on several grounds, including that Atwood neglected to consider all the relevant evidence from defence witnesses.
In a decision released Thursday, a panel of Nova Scotia Court of Appeal judges rejected her appeal, saying Atwood did not neglect that evidence.
“He was careful and thorough in his analysis,” Chief Justice Michael MacDonald and Justice Duncan Beveridge wrote for the three-judge panel.
They said Atwood accepted expert evidence from psychiatrists that Hood suffered from bipolar mood disorder, but rejected defence arguments that the disorder made her incapable of knowing that her behaviour was morally wrong.
“The fact is, the trial judge was simply not convinced by the defence experts’ insistence that the appellant could intellectually know that her acts amounted to professional misconduct and were legally wrong, yet be unable to ‘access this insight’ over many months to know her conduct was morally wrong,” the decision said.
“The experts here acknowledged that a person who is affected by (bipolar mood disorder) can become psychotic, including the presence of delusion. But they were unanimous: There was absolutely no evidence the appellant was at any time psychotic.”
The panel noted a text message exchange with one of the complainants, which showed Hood had concerns about the legal ramifications of her actions.
“I picture a (expletive) cop car showing up at the school or my house all the (expletive) time. It’s sad how much it consumes my day, and yet I try and convince myself that I’m not that (expletive) up, but I must be, because I can’t say no to you,” the text message said.
The Crown had also sought to appeal Hood’s sentence, but the appeal court dismissed that application.
“These were serious offences that must be denounced and deterred,” the decision said.
“At the same time, Ms. Hood suffered from mental illness which does not pardon her, but was a legitimate factor for the judge to consider on sentencing. She has already paid dearly; for example by losing her teaching career along with the inevitable public humiliation. Her sentence is punitive. It adequately addresses deterrence and denunciation.”
Hood had apologized for her actions during a sentencing hearing in October 2016.
“I truly believe in my heart that without the onset of bipolar disorder, none of these events would have ever occurred,” she said at the time.
“I want to reiterate my deep and immeasurable remorse for my actions that led to these charges and the lasting effects they have had on (the victims’) lives as well as their families. It is something I will feel regret for every day for the rest of my life.”