Cathy Bendle

Fifteen years after launching a lawsuit related to sexual assaults in the 1970s, Cathy Bendle has received an apology and settlement from the public school division in Prince Albert. (Ryan Pilon/CBC)

A Prince Albert woman who was sexually abused as a student in the 1970s has been given an apology and a settlement from school officials.

The apology is part of a settlement to a lawsuit launched by Cathy Bendle 15 years ago.

The legal wrangling wrapped up in mid-November. In an interview this week, Bendle told CBC News that the formal apology was extremely important to her.

"It's acknowledgement. It's vindication," Bendle said. "It's admitting out loud that the system is flawed and needs help."

As part of the legal process, Bendle agreed to have her identity known although the financial elements of Bendle's settlement are confidential.

Bendle sued the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division in 1999 alleging officials knew or should have known about the assaults by teacher, Dennis Foster.

Bendle was abused by Foster in the 1970s, beginning when she was in Grade 9 and continued until the summer after Grade 11.

In 1993, Foster was convicted of five sexual assaults spanning a sixteen year period. The names of some of the other victims remain protected by a publication ban. Some others also launched lawsuits and have reached settlements.

Bendle suffers loss of work

Bendle said the case not only affected her childhood but continued to vex her even after she testified at Foster's trial in the early 1990s.

Statement from the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division:

"These were horrible events caused by a former employee. We know that this settlement can never undo those events but we do hope that this resolution will help bring some sense of closure for the women and their families. The final steps in the resolution of this case included the school division working together with the women to create a joint public statement that conveys our collective views. The settlement also provides an opportunity for the women to share their story to ensure that others stay well-informed about the risks posed by sexual predators."
Robert Bratvold
Director of Education

At that time, Bendle was a substitute teacher in Prince Albert and she says that, after testifying, she was blacklisted by the division.

"The principal pulled me out of the classroom and told me the other teachers would be uncomfortable with me in the building," Bendle said. "He would allow me to finish the day, but he was cancelling the other days I had been booked."

Bendle said losing the teaching work was devastating.

"I'm well educated. I work hard," she said, adding the economic consequences were harsh. "For over ten years my family lived without running water. Another six or seven years, we had running water half the time."

The settlement, she says, will help her family improve their situation.

"Obviously I'm not quitting my job," she said. "It's not enough to do trips around the world or anything, but it's really nice to no longer be below the poverty line."

She said the 15 years it took to reach a conclusion was difficult.

'Emotionally it was really, really draining.'- Cathy Bendle

"Emotionally it was really, really draining," she said. "The law being what it is, you don't know you're going to win. You can have all the right things, and all the right reasons, and all the right resources, but there might be something in the law that says you won't win, so that was always hanging over our heads."

Bendle said the amount of time it took to reach a settlement was remarkable.

"When we were beginning this, my oldest child was just beginning kindergarten, and couldn't read," she said. "When it ended, about a week before we got the apology letters, our youngest son moved out, because he's graduated and has a full-time job."

Bendle said she insisted the settlement included an ability for her to speak about her case.

She says she may write a book about her experience or do some public speaking.

With files from CBC's Ryan Pilon