Warning: This story describes sexual abuse
As they cried together and consoled each other in Calgary on Monday, three former junior high students detailed haunting memories of the teacher, whom they say abused them, and an untold number of others. , for years.
Now-adult, John Ware Jr. High alumni have come forward to tell their stories as the designated plaintiffs, in a statement of claims alleging that former teacher Michael Gregory waged a years-long campaign of abuse – sexual interactions , traveling without permission and giving gifts to the groom and abusing children.
Attorney Jonathan Dennis, representing the group in a lawsuit filed by Guardian Law Group LLP, said at a news conference Monday, “Plaintiffs claim that from at least the period 1989 to 2005, Michael Gregory … sexually harassed more students.” ,
The numbers are an estimate by the plaintiffs and have not been publicly confirmed by the authorities.
Three former students alleged that Gregory’s treatment of the children was obvious to all and that people in a position of authority failed to act when concerns arose.
Experts familiar with the matter say it is a classic example of a systemic failure and underscores the need for independent groups that can be tasked with investigating misconduct by teachers. He says the case also highlights how often sexual abuse against children is under-reported.
Gregory died in an apparent suicide on British Columbia’s Quadra Island last February after he was charged with 17 counts of sex-related criminal offenses involving six former students.
The proposed class-action lawsuit is seeking $40 million in damages and names the Calgary Board of Education and Gregory’s estate as defendants.
The statement of claim alleges that CBE was aware of Gregory’s activities but failed to investigate or act on him.
CBE spokeswoman Megan Geyer told the Star in an email that “CBE has not been formally serviced” and that “we will respond through the appropriate legal channels” if this happens.
None of the allegations in the claim have been tested in court.
The claim states that Gregory lost his teaching license in 2006 after the Alberta Teachers Association launched an investigation into his conduct.
One of the alumni named in the lawsuit, Kelly Schneider, went to the school from 1988 to 1991. In her grades 8 and 9, from when she was 14, Schneider and Gregory developed a “sexual relationship,” according to the claim details.
Once, Gregory and another teacher threw her in the shower wearing a white cotton T-shirt, which was wet, the statement of claim said. In another court filing, during Gregory’s escalation, he demanded that Schneider remove his shirt in front of him and the rest of the group, who were all boys.
According to court filings, when she was in grade 9, Gregory approached her parents with concerns that she was sexually active and was bringing the boys home at lunchtime.
Schneider decides to show his parents gifts given by Gregory, including a gold necklace and a poster with the inscription, “Love Mike”.
Schneider’s parents went to the school the next day to “seeking answers” but were met with dismissal and were told that “your daughter has a lot of imagination,” the claim says.
“I can’t believe it,” Schneider said on Monday.
Schneider was losing friends and getting upset about the relationship with Gregory, she said.
Schneider addressed another named complainant in the statement of claim, Erin Mackenzie, who sat with her on Monday.
“If I was to be believed in the late ’80s,” she said, “Erin would never have crossed paths with this guy, or never should have.”
Schneider said that the age of both women is about 13 years.
“There are a lot of girls among us who have yet to come forward,” he said.
According to the statement of claim, Mackenzie went to school from 1999 to 2002 and was pressured by Gregory to engage in sexually inappropriate activity as a minor. The statement of claim states that she was also involved in sexual activity with Gregory as a minor, while he molested her.
“It affects me every single day of my life,” Mackenzie said Monday through tears. “I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, ever.”
The third named plaintiff is Cody Bonkowski, who attended the school from 1999 to 2002. During her time there, she witnessed inappropriate treatment of female students from Gregory and even reported it to a guidance councillor, but “heard nothing more about the issue,” the claim statement says.
Bonkowski said Monday that he would like to see “accountability” from CBE.
“I know there are other men like me who are witnesses to this,” he said. “(Gregory) never hid it.”
“I know other people have said something,” he said. “Whether they are the parents of the students, the teachers themselves or the children.”
Bonkowski said that Gregory made her a liar to his peers and engaged in “physical and psychological” threats; He even, once, pushed her into a wall and reportedly said, “They’ll never believe you and I’m going to make sure they don’t.”
Earlier this year, the allegations against Gregory garnered media attention and prompted 35 witnesses to come forward with information about him, as well as 10 other victims, according to a Calgary Police Service spokesman. The spokesman said this brought “the known number of victims to 16 students”.
“These victims called the CPS from coast to coast and the United States heard about the allegations against Gregory,” the spokesman said. “The investigation is ongoing as detectives are investigating other investigation directions.”
Noni Klaasen, education director at the Canadian Center for Child Protection, said the case highlights the need for independent bodies for all provinces that students and parents can visit with concerns about teachers.
“People came forward again and again,” she said of the Gregory case, adding that the report is amenable to staying within the school when parents turn to the teacher or principal with concern.
Too often, those working in the school don’t have the training to be able to act on those concerns, said Klaasen, speaking generally rather than in the specific Gregory case.
“Naturally, there is a conflict of interest,” Klaasen said, because everyone inside the school is too close to each other for proper scrutiny.
Often, concerns about teachers being sexually inappropriate with students are underestimated by the authorities, she said. There’s a belief that children make things bigger than usual, but in reality, in cases of sexual abuse by adults, the opposite is usually true, Klaasen said.
“People report less,” she said. “If someone brings something forward, we should receive and pay close attention to the information as highly reliable, and in fact, the opposite of what often happens.”
Once an independent body is established to deal with potential misconduct by a teacher, all findings of misconduct should be publicly disclosed, he said.
“The system is broken, 100 percent,” Klaasen said.
Mary Jane James, CEO of Edmonton’s Sexual Assault Center, said the case showed “reportedly, necessary steps were not taken” when students raised concerns. He said better policies should be put in place when concerns are raised about sexually inappropriate behavior by a teacher.
“These are all allegations at the moment, but I think, you know, there’s a lot of smoke in there. So, that tells me there’s a really big fire burning in the background.”