OCDSB, Royal facing 6 new lawsuits in historical sex abuse cases
Former students of convicted abuser Bob Clarke allege negligence on part of institutions
Four decades have passed, but Chris Hilkes still gets choked up talking about the abuse he suffered at Bell High School in Ottawa.
Now, he and five others are suing former teacher Bob Clarke, as well as the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre for the alleged negligence that they say contributed to their abuse.
"Sex abuse has greatly, profoundly affected my life, mentally, spiritually, relationship-wise and mostly financially, and the civil suit is to bring back a bit of what I've taken as a loss," said Hilkes, now 56.
All of this could have been handled if someone had the courage to come forward.- Chris Hilkes, plaintiff
It's the latest in a series of criminal and civil proceedings involving Clarke, the former music teacher convicted for sex crimes against 10 former students who attended Ottawa schools where he taught in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Around the same time, Clarke was also an out-patient at The Royal, seeking treatment for what he perceived was his inappropriate behaviour toward young people.
Each plaintiff in the six suits launched in mid-April is seeking $1.95 million in damages. They claim the abuse has led to major depression, suicidal behaviour, flashbacks, and loss of both income and enjoyment of life.
"I've lived in rooming homes. I have absolutely nothing," said Hilkes. "I survive. I picked up the odd little jobs here [and there], but nothing of a career type."
Board, Royal respond
The OCDSB told CBC it's in the process of reviewing the claims it has just received.
"Like all legal claims, there is an established legal process and this will be followed," said the board in a statement.
"One thing is certain — abuse should never happen, especially not to a child and not at school where children should be able to learn in a safe environment. As part of our ongoing work in this area, principals recently received training on the duty to report ... and are currently sharing this training with all school-based staff."
The Royal said it can't comment on pending lawsuits.
Eighteen separate lawsuits have now been filed against the OCDSB in relation to three former Bell High School teachers accused of historical sexual abuse of students in the 1970s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. These suits seek a combined sum of close to $40 million.
A CBC investigation in 2018 and subsequent podcast The Band Played On uncovered more than 50 victims and unravelled mysteries behind years of allegations. It led to more victims coming forward, including Hilkes, and more prison time for Clarke, who served about 18 months in a federal institution.
Clarke's ex-wife, and several doctors and nurses who were involved in his treatment at the Royal in the 1970s, are also named as defendants in the six lawsuits.
"I believe that the hospital knew what was happening. The school board knew.... They need to step up, be accountable," said Hilkes. "All of this could have been handled if someone had the courage to come forward."
According to their statements of claim, Hilkes, Jean-Marc Charron, Marc Leach, Peter Hamer and two other men who do not wish to be named say they were "subjected to heinous sexual, physical, and emotional assaults at the hands of Clarke, and that such assaults were allowed to commence and continue because of the negligence and breaches of the Defendants."
Royal knew, plaintiffs allege
The plaintiffs claim the Royal "knew or ought to have known of Clarke's propensity to sexually abuse minors," and failed to take steps to prevent the abuse. They also allege the OCDSB "failed to take reasonable and appropriate steps, if any, to remove Clarke from a position in which he was a danger" to students.
While most of Clarke's victims attended Bell High School, he moved on to nearby Sir Robert Borden High School in 1986. That's where Clarke taught music and band to Marc Leach, and it was in the school's music room that he sexually assaulted the teenager. Clarke was convicted in 2018.
Leach's late father Bill Leach, a former lieutenant-general and commander of the Canadian Army, sat on the board of The Royal before his death in 2015.
"He was there because he cared about soldiers and their mental health and getting over PTSD, and he was a real champion for that. But I think if he were to be alive now ... he'd be very disappointed and angry, ashamed," said Leach.
He and other plaintiffs claim The Royal made no reports to the Children's Aid Society regarding Clarke.
Struggles with addiction, anger
Hilkes has struggled with addiction and anger issues, and said he's been unable to work for several years. He currently lives on disability benefits.
He said he wonders what his life might have been like if he'd never encountered Clarke and endured several years of his abuse.
"I lost. Not having a chance to have a family, not having a son to go fishing with, or a daughter. I lost all these things," he said. "I had to be accountable for a lot of things. And when I got sober I took a moral inventory of myself and I had to come clean. I cleaned my side of the street. Now it's their turn to clean their side of the street."
Of all the lawsuits against former Bell High School teachers, their estates and the OCDSB, only two have been resolved, while others are in mediation.