School board ordered to pay damages to former student over bullying
Quebec Superior Court says school should have done more to stop harassment, attacks
A Quebec Superior Court has ordered the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île to pay $10,000 to a former student after she argued that they failed to protect her from bullying.
The adolescent says that during the year she spent at École Saint-Vincent-Marie in Montreal North, a group of boys in her class called her names, pulled her hair, prevented her from speaking in class, and hit her.
She says that she asked for help from her teachers numerous times, but that nothing was done.
A "very difficult' year
The adolescent describes her time at the Montreal North school as a very difficult year and says bullying began almost immediately when she entered sixth grade.
She says five different boys in her class bullied her verbally and physically for nearly eight months. One called her at home to threaten her. Others hit her in the stomach and face.
She and her parents also asked that she be transferred to another school. The request was refused, in part because the school said the issues were not serious enough.
The school argued that the bullying was not as severe as the young girl indicated. They said that the bullying did not begin immediately, and that everything was fine for part of the year. They also said that sufficient action was taken to address the behaviour of the boys whenever it came up.
The Court ultimately concluded that they "believed the girl's version in its broad strokes."
Calls to the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île were not returned.
"They followed her into the bathroom"
The girl says that on three separate incidents, several of the boys followed her into the school's unisex washroom and touched her sexually. She says that on the third and final time, they pushed her, hit her, and touched her on her chest and genitals.
The school board does not deny that serious attacks took place in the bathroom, though they raised questions about whether the sexual touching took place.
Later, they testified that the girl had been dancing in a "suggestive" manner at a school dance just a few days before the third attack. They say they warned her not to dance this way – an interaction she denied having happened at all.
Judge Stephen Hamilton responded in his written judgement with a stern warning to the school board.
"Even if the school board is clear that they raise this issue only to impeach the credibility [of the girl] and not to justify what happened afterwards in the washroom," he said, "the line is very thin and it should not be crossed."
Lasting emotional scars
The girl says her life has been seriously affected by the bullying she endured.
"According to her testimony, she is not doing well. She has rashes on her neck and abdomen since September 2010," the judgement reads. "She scratches her arms constantly. She's anxious, with suicidal thoughts."
As the year went on, she regularly missed days at school, and following the springtime attack in the washroom, did not return at all. She says she's had trouble attending school since.
Judge Hamilton concluded that the policies and measures in place in the school were insufficient to protect the girl. He said the school could have predicted that the incidents would continue, and could have done more to intervene.