Warning: This story contains a description of the sexual abuse.
As they wept together and consoled themselves in Calgary on Monday, three high school alumni detailed haunting memories of the teacher they say abused them and countless others over the years.
Now the grown-ups, John Ware Junior High alumni have come forward to tell their stories as the plaintiffs named in a claim statement alleging that former teacher Michael Gregory carried out a years-long abuse campaign, using sexual conversations, unauthorized excursions and giving gifts to and abusing children.
“The plaintiffs contend that from the period of at least 1989 to 2005, Michael Gregory … literally sexually assaulted more than 200 students,” said Jonathan Denis, an attorney representing the group in a lawsuit filed by Guardian Law Group LLP, in a press conference on Monday. .
The number is an estimate of the plaintiffs and has not been publicly confirmed by authorities.
All three alumni allege that Gregory’s conduct with the children was in the open for all and that people in positions of authority failed to act when concerns were raised.
Experts familiar with the case say it is a classic example of systemic failure and underscore the need for independent groups that can be tasked with investigating teacher misconduct. The case also highlights, they say, the frequency with which sexual abuse of children is not reported.
Gregory died last February on Quadra Island in British Columbia in an apparent suicide just days after he was charged with 17 counts of sex-related crimes involving six former students.
The proposed class action lawsuit seeks $ 40 million in damages and names the Calgary Board of Education and Gregory’s estate as defendants.
The claim statement alleges that the CBE knew of Gregory’s activities but did not investigate or act on them.
Megan Geyer, a spokeswoman for CBE, told the Star in an email that “CBE has not been formally notified” and that once that happens “we will respond through the appropriate legal channels.”
None of the allegations in the claim have been proven in court.
Gregory lost his teaching license in 2006 after the Alberta Teachers Association launched an investigation into his conduct, the claim says.
Kelly Schneider, one of the former students named in the lawsuit, had attended school from 1988 to 1991. During her eighth and ninth grade, beginning when she was 14, Schneider and Gregory developed a “sexual relationship,” according to the claim statement. .
Once, Gregory and another teacher threw her into the shower while wearing a white cotton T-shirt, which got soaked, the claim statement says. In another incident detailed in the court file, during a walk that Gregory was leading, he demanded that Schneider remove his shirt in front of him and the rest of the group, who were all children.
According to court records, when she was in ninth grade, Gregory approached her parents with concerns that she was sexually active and bringing children home at lunchtime.
Schneider decided to show his parents the gifts Gregory had given him, including a gold necklace and a “Love Mike” sign.
Schneider’s parents went to school the next day to “demand answers,” but were met with layoffs and told that “their daughter has quite a bit of imagination,” the claim says.
“They didn’t believe me,” Schneider said Monday.
Schneider was losing friends and being bullied over his relationship with Gregory, he said.
Schneider then turned to another whistleblower named in the claim statement, Eryn MacKenzie, who was sitting with her Monday.
“If they had believed me in the late ’80s,” he said, “Eryn would never, or never should, have crossed paths with this man.”
The two women are about 13 years apart, Schneider noted.
“There are many girls among us who have not yet performed,” he added.
MacKenzie went to school from 1999 to 2002 and Gregory pressured him to engage in sexually inappropriate activity when he was a minor, according to the lawsuit’s statement. She also participated in sexual acts with Gregory when she was a minor, all while he manipulated her, the claim statement says.
“It affects me every day of my life,” MacKenzie said through tears Monday. “I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, ever again.”
The third named complainant is Cody Bonkowsky, who attended the school from 1999 to 2002. During his time there, he witnessed inappropriate behavior from Gregory with female students and even reported it to a guidance counselor, but “I never heard anything more about it. , ”Says the claim statement.
Bonkowsky said Monday that he wants to see the “responsibility” of the CBE.
“I know there are other men like me who are witnesses to it,” he said. “(Gregory) never hid it.”
“I know other people have said something.” “Whether they are parents of the students, teachers or children.”
Bonkowsky said Gregory made him look like a liar to his peers and engaged in “physical and psychological” bullying; he even once pushed him against a wall and allegedly told him, “They will never believe you and I will make sure they don’t.”
Earlier this year, the charges against Gregory attracted media attention, prompting 35 witnesses to present information about him, as well as 10 other victims, according to a spokesman for the Calgary Police Service. This brought the “known casualty count to 16 students,” the spokesman said.
“These victims called CPS from coast to coast and to the United States having heard of the charges against Gregory,” the spokesperson said. “The investigation remains open while detectives are examining other investigation directions.”
Noni Classen, director of education for the Canadian Center for Child Protection, said the case clarifies the need for all provinces to have independent bodies that students and parents can turn to with concerns about teachers.
“People came up over and over again,” Gregory said of the case, adding that reports are likely to linger within the school when a parent goes to a teacher or principal with concerns.
Often times, those who work at the school don’t have the training to act on the concerns that are brought to them, Classen said, speaking generally, rather than Gregory’s specific case.
“Inherently, there is a conflict of interest,” Classen added, as all the people within the school are too close to each other for a proper investigation to take place.
Often, authorities downplay concerns that teachers are sexually inappropriate with students, he said. There is an assumption that children make things bigger than they usually are, but in fact, in cases of sexual abuse by adults, the opposite is usually the case, Classen said.
“People don’t report,” he said. “If someone presents something, we should receive the information as highly credible and pay close attention to it, and that is, in fact, the opposite of what often happens.”
Once an independent body is established to address potential teacher misconduct, all findings of misconduct must be publicly disclosed, he added.
“The system is broken, 100 percent,” Classen said.
Mary Jane James, executive director of the Edmonton Center for Sexual Assault, said the case shows that “supposedly, the necessary steps were not taken” when students expressed their concerns. Better policies should be put in place for when concerns are raised about inappropriate sexual behavior by a teacher, he said.
“These are all accusations at this point, but I think there is a lot of smoke there. So, he tells me that there is a great fire burning in the background. “