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Lawsuit targets Coquitlam school district over alleged sexual abuse in 1970s

Plaintiff claims district should have investigated when “they knew or ought to have known that sexual abuse was happening.”
School District 43 is the subject of a sex assault lawsuit dating back to the 1970s. | Tri-City News file photo

School District 43 (SD43) is being sued in a sex abuse case dating back 50 years involving a Coquitlam elementary school teacher.

The plaintiff, Jeanette Ester Buchanan, has filed a civil claim in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, alleging that a perpetrator, named only as John Doe, was a “trusted authority figure” at Miller Park school who “preyed” upon her and sexually assaulted her commencing in or about 1971 and 1974.

The suit, filed July 12, states that the perpetrator sexually assaulted her “on a repeated basis, increasing in frequency, nature and intensity as time progressed.”

It claims as well that the perpetrator was a trusted authority figure to the plaintiff’s family and the plaintiff was “young, vulnerable and in need of guidance.”

He also used his position of authority and trust, and the fact that she was a young child, to “ensure that the plaintiff did not tell anyone about his wrong-doing,” making her feel that it was “unsafe” to tell anyone, the claim states.

According to the allegations, none of which has been proven in court, the perpetrator breached his duty of care and fiduciary duty and wilfully or negligently inflicted “pain and suffering, mental suffering, humiliation and degradation upon the plaintiff, sexually assaulted the plaintiff and interfered with the plaintiff’s normal childhood and future relationships solely for the purpose of his own gratification.”

As the defendant in the suit, SD43 has 21 days to file a response.

According to the suit, SD43 “owed a duty of care, as well as a fiduciary duty to individuals enrolled in the school” and should have protected the student from “wrongdoings of a sexual nature.”

“The perpetrator was authorized by the defendant to carry out the purposes and objectives of the defendant in dealing with the plaintiff. The defendant provided the perpetrator with the opportunity and means to encounter the plaintiff. The defendant fostered a relationship between the perpetrator and the plaintiff,” the lawsuit states.

Among the other claims, the lawsuit states that the school district’s rules, principles and policies created an opportunity for the perpetrator to “engage and continue to engage” in the ongoing sexual assaults while the perpetrator was able to use his position to take advantage of the plaintiff “under the guise of conducting the activities of a teacher.”

It states that the school district should have investigated when “they knew or ought to have known that sexual abuse was happening.”

“The defendant oversaw the activities of the school, therefore had the power and resources to inspect, check, question, and the duty to oversee all activities in a way that could have prevented the sexual assault from happening.”

The suit claims the school district was “negligent” and failed in its duty by failing to properly supervise the perpetrator, failing to investigate his background, character and psychological state properly and thoroughly, and failing to document or provide discipline.

As well, the lawsuit claims SD43 failed to warn immediate supervisors and others in contact with the teacher to inform them about his shortcomings, didn’t have a system of reporting or counselling and was “fostering a system, based on the rules and principals of the defendant, whereby the reporting of such deviant sexual behaviour of the perpetrator would be considered to be wrong and/or would result in retaliation.”

The lawsuit further states the district maintained a system which was “designed to cover up” the behaviour and either denied or was “wilfully blind” to the existence of the wrongful behaviours.

By failing to put in “safeguards” or to take “adequate steps” and allowing the plaintiff and other children to be alone with the perpetrator, the defendant was not protected, the suit alleges.

The suit states that the plaintiff suffered mental anguish in numerous ways, including depression and anxiety, addiction, sexual dysfunction, mistrust of authority figures, loss of interdependent relationship, mistrust of men and loss of enjoyment of life.

The plaintiff has also been required to undergo medical treatment and psychological or spiritual counselling and will continue to require treatment “indefinitely,” the lawsuit states.

The suit states that SD43 is the “institutional defendant” and is “vicariously liable” for the wrongful actions of the perpetrator.

It seeks special damages, including expenses for medical treatment, as well as general damages, past and future costs for health care, as well as punitive and aggravated damages and costs.