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Former NKEC teacher apologizes to victim at sexual exploitation sentencing

Northeast Kings Education Centre (NKEC) teacher David Harrison goes through security on his way into Kentville provincial court on May 30. He pleaded guilty to a charge of sexual exploitation.
Former NKEC teacher David Harrison goes through court security in Kentville on May 30. He was sentenced on a charge of sexual exploitation on June 26. - FILE PHOTO

Harrison has turned in teacher’s licence

KENTVILLE, N.S. —

As he stood for his sentencing, a former teacher at Northeast Kings Education Centre in Canning apologized to his victim for his “actions and poor choices” that have caused her harm.

David Benjamin Harrison, 39, of Canaan, pleaded guilty on May 30 to a charge of sexual exploitation, specifically touching the body of a young person who he was in a position of trust or authority toward for a sexual purpose.

He appeared in Kentville provincial court for his sentencing hearing on June 26. Judge Christopher Manning accepted a joint sentencing recommendation from Crown prosecutor Robert Morrison and defence attorney Joel Pink for 90 days of intermittent custody.

Harrison will serve the sentence from Fridays at 7 p.m. to Mondays at 6 a.m. beginning June 28. He has also been sentenced to four months of reporting probation. The court granted a DNA order and a 10-year Sex Offender Information Registration Act (SOIRA) order.

HARD TIME FORGIVING HIMSELF

“I’ve had a hard time forgiving myself for the hurt that I’ve caused both her and the subsequent pain and shame I’ve caused both my family and friends since my arrest in November of 2018,” Harrison said.

He said he wishes that he had apologized to her the last time he saw her in 2015 and “began making amends for the errors in judgement that I made” as he began to regret the relationship they had.

“In fact, over the past three years, I’ve often thought about what I did and a number of times I wanted to somehow find a way to reach out and apologize but a combination of shame and cowardice prevented me from doing the right thing,” Harrison said.

He said he made a series of “horrendous mistakes” that caused her and the community harm and “I will accept the consequences handed down to me by the court as a way of making amends for what I’ve done.” Harrison said he doesn’t deserve forgiveness but hopes that the victim and her family would consider it.

FACTS OF THE CASE

Harrison committed the offence in Kings County between Sept. 1, 2013, and Aug. 28, 2015. Harrison and a student began communicating outside of school. They began to develop a friendly relationship and corresponded through email. Over time the correspondence became more personal and he told the complainant about trouble he was having in his marriage.

Morrison told the court that there were three instances involved. Once, he picked her up and took her for a walk on the beach in Avonport and the two kissed. On another occasion, they parked at Horton High and kissed.

On the third occasion, which occurred between the Lookoff and the Old Orchard Inn, the two kissed, he touched her breasts on and underneath her clothing and he put his hand down her pants and touched her vagina, although as Pink pointed out there was no digital penetration.

The victim disclosed the incidents to police last summer and turned over electronic communications. Acting on a warrant, police seized electronic devices from Harrison’s residence and reconstructed the communications.

VICTIM MAKES STATEMENT

Victim impact statements were provided by the victim and her mother. After reading from the victim’s statement, Judge Manning said there are no guarantees that this legal process will prevent something like this from happening to someone else.

“The only thing that one can take from this is that courts do take these things seriously. These incidents are considered to be extremely serious and one can see that in the recommendation of a man without any prior criminal history receiving a jail sentence as a joint recommendation,” Manning said.

The victim said that she has had to navigate immense emotional, mental and physical obstacles in day-to-day life. She said that when she met Harrison, she was “a child who was vulnerable and struggling.”

“I was battling substantial internalized homophobia and I blamed my appearance and personality for the lack of attention I received from males. This was a weakness that was abused and manipulated.” she wrote.

“Mr. Harrison was the first man to who made me feel of value and I looked to him with significant trust. He told me I was beautiful and loved, and for a young girl who felt estranged from the male validation she thought she needed, that was powerful.”

She said her already weak self-esteem deteriorated and she developed severe depression coupled with PTSD. She said she didn’t accept that her relationship with Harrison was pedophilic until a year and a half later. She said her skin would crawl incessantly and she “felt dirty, gross, worthless.”

“I wanted to tear myself apart and every day prayed to God that I could just be dead,” she said.

The court heard that Harrison has paid in excess of $1,400 for the victim’s counselling and therapy.

TEACHING CAREER ‘FINISHED’

Pink, who filed a psychological report on Harrison with the court, said this has had a “devastating” effect on Harrison, who worked as a teacher for 14 years and is presently separated from his wife and children.

“As a result of him being charged, he is suspended from teaching from November of 2018. Subsequent to that, he has turned in his teachers licence and his career as a teacher is now finished,” Pink said, pointing out that Harrison’s work as a volunteer coach has also come to an end.

Morrison said that in cases such as this where there is an element of sexual misconduct, it’s “extremely difficult” for victims to come forward.

“Take this case for example where you have a young woman who is making complaint about this established, respected member of the community,” Morrison said. “I think many people in that situation would just say I’m not going to be believed.”

He said one thing that helped in this case was the record of electronic communication between them to show that what she said happened really did. However, even given that, it’s extremely difficult for people to come forward and “be subject to the public scrutiny that goes along with these cases.”

Charges of sexual assault and child luring – specifically that he used a telecommunication device to communicate with a person believed to be under the age of 18 for the purpose of facilitating the offence of sexual touching - were withdrawn by the Crown on June 26.

Kirk.starratt@kingscountynews.ca

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