Alumni of Lennoxville private school reach out to alleged abuse victims

Several former students of Bishop's College School in Lennoxville say they want to set up a truth and reconciliation committee to offer help to those dealing with alleged past abuse at the private school.

Want to establish truth and reconciliation process parallel to lawsuit

Several former students of Bishop’s College School in Lennoxville say they want to set up a truth and reconciliation committee to help alumni deal with alleged past physical and sexual abuse at the private institution.

A class-action lawsuit dealing with allegations of abuse by a teacher at the school in the 1950s and 1960s is pending in Quebec Court.

But some former Bishop’s College School students say there is a need for a support network to help alleged victims deal with their experiences.

Such a network could provide a supportive space for people to share their stories, said John Cowans, a former Bishop’s College student and headmaster who is among those trying to establish the reconciliation committee.

"If we can act and offer some kind of consolation and sympathy – just knowing that we’re there to listen if they want to talk [will help alumni cope]," Cowans said.

"[Putting] people together that have common experiences, there’s a great deal of comfort that comes from that, I think."

Any reconciliation process would be kept separate from the lawsuit, Cowans said.

None of the allegations have yet been proven in court.

Truth and reconciliation can't replace lawsuit, says student

The teacher alleged to have committed the abuses was an Anglican minister who worked at the school between 1953 and 1962. He was also the school chaplain and the choir director, according to the chairman of the college's board of directors.

The teacher died in a train crash in England in 1967.

A former student involved in the lawsuit says the idea of a truth and reconciliation committee is honourable, but he still wants compensation from the school.

The student, who asked not to be named, alleges he went to wake up the teacher in question one morning and was asked to undress.

The student said the teacher spanked and fondled his buttocks while making strange, breathy noises.

"It was very, very upsetting," he told CBC News. "I felt humiliated, dominated."

Today, he says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and wants his alma mater to pay damages.

"The school may suffer, but I’m sorry, there are a lot of people who have suffered as a result of the school hiring an employee [like him]," he said.

Bishop’s College supports the idea of a truth and reconciliation process, but it can’t be directly involved as long as the lawsuit is pending, said Kurt Johnson, a member of the school’s board of directors.

"Anything we do or say in any public forum may be interpreted in a manner that may be used against the school," he explained this week.

Legal protection would be needed for school to participate

The likelihood of a truth and reconciliation committee being struck is slim, because usually, such processes are created by governments, said Stéphane Leman-Langlois, a criminologist at the University of Montreal.

"It’s completely abnormal, and it cannot really be done, because clearly, the main people who need to be reconciled cannot really participate, because whatever they say can be used in their lawsuit. And of course, they would not want that to happen," Leman-Langlois said this week.

Governments usually create laws that limit the liability of those who participate in reconciliation processes, he said.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in October 2006.

Bishop's College School was founded in 1836 as a boys' school and merged with a nearby private girls' institution in 1972.