Former ballet student alleges sexual assault in suit against RWB, teacher

A former dancer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet has sued the company and a former teacher she alleges sexually assaulted her in the 1990s.

Allegations Bruce Monk took inappropriate photos of students led RWB to cut ties with him in 2015

A former student has filed a lawsuit against the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Bruce Monk alleging the former teacher and photographer sexually assaulted her in the 1990s. (Wally Santana/Associated Press)

A former dancer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is suing the company and a former teacher she alleges sexually assaulted her in the 1990s.

The 35-year-old woman accuses former dance instructor and photographer Bruce Monk of sexual assault, child exploitation and human trafficking, among other offences, in a statement of claim filed in the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench on Nov. 22.

The woman suffered "mental distress, emotional pain and suffering" and is seeking $300,000 in general damages, the suit states. She is also suing for an unspecified amount in special damages, as well as an additional $100,000 in punitive, aggravated and/or exemplary damages.

The woman, who is now a mother of three, was a teenage member of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's professional division from 1991 to 1998 who went on to earn a degree in dance with the Winnipeg School of Contemporary Dancers.

'Elite ballerina'

The suit states the woman was an "elite ballerina" who was forced to abandon a career in dance because of what Monk put her through. 

When she started studying dance at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, she wasn't old enough to stay in the student residence, so her mother and two siblings moved with her to Winnipeg so she could attend the school.

The woman said administration knew Monk commonly held private photo shoots with dancers on and off school property. The school was "willfully blind" and did nothing to ensure the safety of the students during the shoots, the lawsuit states.

Bruce Monk, a former instructor and photographer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, was let go in 2015 after allegations he took inappropriate photos of underage students. (CBC)

After several "relatively benign" shoots from 1996 to 1999, Monk began asking the student to pose in "increasingly sexualized" ways, the lawsuit states.

The woman says when she was 16, Monk staged two photo shoots with her in a boiler room at the school. The woman says Monk asked her to remove her bodysuit and crouch in "frog pose" in the first shoot and asked her to get naked in the second.

The woman said Monk later showed the photos to her and tried to convince her he could sell them for "a lot of money." She rejected and avoided him from that point on, she said.

"These photo shoots caused the plaintiff to feel violated and dirty, damaging her self-esteem," the lawsuit states.

Past allegations

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet put Monk on paid leave in January 2015 and he was let go in April 2015 after school officials said they learned he was under investigation by police over allegations he took photos of students at various stages of undress.

At the time, Winnipeg Police Service Const. Jason Michalyshen said "there were multiple victims involved."

In a statement to CBC News, RWB director of school operations Kate Fennel confirmed Monk was employed with the company during the time of the most recent allegations.

"The RWB is committed to the safety, security and well-being of every student entrusted to our care, and we take this responsibility very seriously," Fennel said in a statement. "We have a number of protocols in place to safeguard our students, and these are reviewed on a regular basis."

Despite initially denying prior knowledge of the allegations, former RWB executive director Jeff Herd later said the company received an anonymous email in 2013 outlining inappropriate behaviour involving Monk.

Herd said the company interviewed Monk but didn't have enough information to take action until the police investigation began in 2015.

The new allegations have not been proven and are still before the courts. Neither the Royal Winnipeg Ballet nor Monk have filed statements of defence.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson