A Montreal elementary school teacher pleaded guilty on Tuesday to sex-related crimes involving five young female students whom he manipulated into acts of sexual abuse.

Dominic Blanchette admitted guilt on eight counts, including sexual interference, possession of child pornography, child luring and sexual exploitation. More than a dozen other charges were stayed.

Blanchette, 28, who taught in the city's Montreal North borough at two different schools, used his influence as a teacher and basketball coach to groom and exploit a total of five victims, who were in grades 5 and 6 when they first met him. The crimes occurred between September 2017 and May 2022.

Prosecutor Annabelle Sheppard told reporters after Tuesday's hearing that some of Blanchette's victims were as young as 10 years old.

"We're talking about students, vulnerable people who were his students or were coached by him. They can't consent at their ages to the situations in question."

Initially, Blanchette was hit with several charges involving an 11-year-old girl in incidents that began in December 2021 and ended with his arrest after her mother complained to police. At the time, Blanchette apologized and told a Montreal police investigator that no other victims would come forward, but police discovered several other victims once his arrest was publicized.

He pleaded guilty to sexual interference of four girls, and to charges of possession of child pornography, computer luring and sexual exploitation. The Quebec court judge summarily convicted him on one count of sexual interference involving a fifth victim; Blanchette admitted that the Crown had sufficient evidence against him on that charge.

The statement of facts in the case says that in February 2022, the mother of one victim discovered sexually inappropriate messages on her daughter's cellphone, as well as a photo of a naked man on the girl's iPad. The mother confronted Blanchette, who denied any relationship. She didn't feel at the time that she had enough evidence to go to police. One day in May, the mother discovered text messages on her child's phone about a sexual encounter at the school earlier that day; she filed a police complaint.

Court documents say that during the police investigation, numerous witnesses said Blanchette had close relationships with his female students and would take them out to lunch or spend time alone after school with them.

"For some, he was a confidant, he would tell them he loved them," the statement of facts says. "In addition, he is described as being tactile with some of them, holding their hands during recess and hugging them."

One girl was 12 when Blanchette began messaging her regularly. He told her he loved her and spoke of his erotic dreams and fantasies. Court documents say that the girl, in interviews with police, described several instances of unwanted touching with the teacher; she also said she received naked photos of him. When she tried to distance herself from him, Blanchette told her he would take his life.

 Another girl was in Grade 5 when she first had Blanchette as a teacher and basketball coach. Blanchette would spend time alone in his classroom with her almost daily, where sexual touching would sometimes take place. She said that at a basketball camp in 2019, Blanchette tried to touch her private parts and kissed her. The victim eventually quit the team.

Sheppard said that a preliminary analysis of Blanchette's cellphone comprised 5,500 emails -- including romantic notes -- with one victim dating back to 2018.

As well, the phone contained intimate photos of one victim and of another girl who hasn't been identified. Police also found another 2,000 emails with another victim, as well as exchanges with other young girls that did not lead to charges.

The case will return to court on July 4 for a sentencing hearing.

- This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 7, 2023