Defence filed in defamation case over sexual assault allegations at Whitehorse high school

A woman being sued by a Whitehorse high school student over a Facebook post alleging multiple instances of sexual harassment or assault against female students at F.H. Collins Secondary School has filed a statement of defence. The statement says her post was based on "true facts."

Facebook post in question based on "true facts," statement of defence says

The common area at F.H. Collins High School in Whitehorse, June 3, 2019. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

A woman accused of defaming a Whitehorse youth in a Facebook post alleging multiple instances of sexual harassment and assault at F.H. Collins Secondary School says the post was based on "true facts."

A statement of defence filed to the Yukon Supreme Court on Aug. 13 says defendant Emily Blanchard "denies all allegations" made in a defamation lawsuit filed against her by the student last month.

The lawsuit centres around a Facebook post Blanchard published in May alleging that a number of female students had experienced sexual harassment or assault at F.H. Collins at the hands of a male student, and that school administration wasn't taking the victims' concerns seriously.

The post received widespread attention before being deleted days later.

The lawsuit hasn't been tested in court.

The student is identified only by his initials in all associated legal documents. 

Blanchard's statement of defence describes her as a citizen of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun who's "an advocate for female students" and "takes the call to speak out against all forms of abuse against girls and women seriously in light of the [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls] calls to action." 

Contrary to the statement of claim, it also notes that while Blanchard attended F.H. Collins, she graduated from J.V. Clark School in Mayo, where she's also a resident. 

According to the statement of defence, Blanchard "learned about various issues affecting the safety of female students at F.H. Collins Secondary School through discussions with trusted friends" in April and May. 

Her friends were also "direct observers of sexual harassment incidents at the school" and "heard degrading statements made about a female students," the statement continues.

It also alleges that "at least one of the incidents of sexual assault was video recorded in the school's hallway," and that Blanchard's friends as well as a female student affected by the alleged sexual harassment and assault gave statements to victim services. 

Post 'intended to raise awareness'

Blanchard made her Facebook post on May 6 because she "feared for the safety of female students" in light of how school officials allegedly weren't addressing their concerns, the statement of defence says. The post was "intended to raise awareness," as well as encourage female students to "speak up" and come forward to authorities.

While the post didn't initially identify the "male student whose behaviour was at issue," comments made on the post included both the student's first name and photograph, and Blanchard updated the post with that information, the statement continues.

However, she deleted both the name and the photo, as well as the comments they were originally contained in, hours later, according to the statement of defence. Blanchard also edited the post after comments began threatening violence against the student to say, "I don't believe violence will solve this in any form, this child needs help mentally and getting violent will NOT solve this problem." 

The majority of comments "offered advice on how to go about dealing with the issue and whom to contact," the statement of defence states. It also claims the statements Blanchard included in her post "are based on true facts and are fair comments protected by qualified privilege." 

The statement asks for the lawsuit to be dismissed, with legal costs awarded to Blanchard.