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Ex-Quebec teacher gets jail time for sex crimes against 15-year-old student

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GATINEAU, Que. - A former Quebec high school teacher found guilty of sex crimes stemming from a relationship with a 15-year-old student will serve jail time.

Tania Pontbriand was convicted last January of sexual assault and two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor for incidents between 2002 and 2004.

Quebec court Judge Valmont Beaulieu sentenced her Friday to a jail term of 20 months for the sexual assault and 18 months on the exploitation charges, to be served concurrently.

Pontbriand, 43, will also be on probation for two years and must register herself on the sex offenders registry.

Pontbriand, who taught gym and leadership courses at an English high school in Rosemere, Que., was 32 when the relationship with her student began. He was 15.

The victim testified he and Pontbriand had sexual relations between 200 and 300 times over the two years — at her home, in her car, in her office, at his home and elsewhere.

He said he was depressed that the relationship had ended and that he flunked out of school. It took until 2007 before he was persuaded to file a criminal complaint. Charges were laid in 2008.

In January, Beaulieu wrote that he was convinced beyond reasonable doubt by the victim's testimony.

"The court is convinced that the accused used the victim to satisfy her own sexual needs, thus exploiting the victim's naivete, his lack of maturity, his dependence and his trust while he was her student," he wrote.

Pontbriand has already appealed the guilty verdict.

On Friday, she asked the judge to delay her sentence by a week so she could spend time with her young family, but he refused and she was incarcerated on the spot.

Largely impassive as Beaulieu read his sentence, Pontbriand appeared visibly upset when the judge refused the request.

A number of people, including her parents, previously testified that Pontbriand's two young children would suffer if they were separated from their mother.

Beaulieu said he considered Pontbriand's kids in delivering his sentence, but ultimately decided to impose a custodial sentence.

"The court is convinced that in the present affair, the need to denounce is so pressing that incarceration is the only appropriate sentence to express the disapproval of society in respect to the conduct of the accused," the judge wrote, adding a jail term is the best way to dissuade others.

Pontbriand told reporters as she entered the courtroom that she didn't want to comment.

She wiped away tears as the judge read excerpts from letters from supporters describing her as a devout mother and an educator who was appreciated and respected.

On social media sites, several of Pontbriand's former students spoke of her in glowing terms.

But the judge wrote that in handing down a sentence, the court must consider the existing social consensus in Canada.

"The teachers of our youth, to who parents entrust (their children), must instruct, educate and pass on good values and don't have the task of initiating them to a sex life and exploiting their lack of maturity," he wrote, describing the "psychological violence" the young victim suffered.

The Crown had sought between 18 months and two years less a day to be served in a provincial jail, while the defence was seeking a conditional sentence.

Prosecutor Caroline Lafleur said the sentence sent an important message.

"It is so important that even in a case with a teacher like her, you can still go to jail," she said.

The defence says it's disappointed Pontbriand is being incarcerated.

"I think that a conditional sentence could have been the right thing to do today and we missed a very good chance to allow Miss Pontbriand to have it," said attorney Hanan Mrani.

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