Ottawa

Reporter's Notebook: Unravelling a high school sex abuse scandal

In November 2018, CBC Ottawa reporter Julie Ireton published a series of exclusive stories detailing decades of sexual abuse allegations against three former public high school teachers. Here are her reflections on those stories, with a behind-the-scenes look at how they came together.

CBC reporter Julie Ireton detailed allegations by 30 former students against 3 former high school teachers

Victim Peter Hamer, left, shows victim Marc Leach, centre, and reporter Julie Ireton, right, school board documents during Ireton's investigation into sexual abuse at Ottawa schools dating back to the 1970s. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

An old man stood in front of the judge, wearing a blue suit and holding two Walmart bags filled with things he planned to bring to his new home — federal prison.

This was my first contact with a sex offender, and in court that day on March 21, 2018, Bob Clarke looked just like a harmless-looking grandfather, casually chatting with his lawyer.

Studying him, I wondered how he could possibly have hurt so many teenagers over so many years.

I'd learn there was a dark side to this 74-year-old former music teacher, who was convicted that day of gross indecency and sexual assault involving eight students during the decades he spent working in Ottawa schools.

But Clarke's conviction was just the beginning of the mystery I'd later unravel — what went on at Bell High School that led to sex crime accusations by more than 30 former students against three former teachers.

Of the three men charged by Ottawa police around the same time, Clarke was the only one who saw his day in court. But he was in prison now, refusing to speak to me, and the two other accused teachers — Don Greenham and Tim Stanutz — were dead.

My search began.

On the banks of the St. Lawrence River in May 2018, alleged victim Dan Leeson, left, speaks to Ireton about his story. (Jennifer Chevalier/CBC)

Who knew what, and when

The day after Clarke's sentencing I went back to the courthouse. Criminal charge sheets provided more details about the dozens of charges laid against Clarke, Greenham and Stanutz dating from 1970 to 2005.

Over weeks and months, with the help of social media, I sought out victims now spread across North America. And as word spread about my investigation, some of them managed to find me first.

Eight survivors decided to speak on the record and reveal their names. Police interviewed them, too, to make sure CBC hadn't coerced them into speaking.

All were adamant that they were ready to talk, and after their stories became public, they shared feelings of relief and validation.

Alleged victim Laurie Howat, left, tells Ireton her story involving former music teacher Tim Stanutz. ( Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Finding out who knew what and when — at the school board, in the mental health system, within government and among police — was the goal when I started my search.

I filed about 15 freedom of information requests with limited success — the men's right to privacy being the overriding rationale used to keep documents out of the public realm.

But some of those documents were used as evidence in court, and after formal requests, judges eventually unsealed papers and lifted publication bans.

The unsealed and partially redacted reports provided some answers, and at the same time raised more questions about who was accountable.

It was the more than 90 interviews with witnesses, teachers, principals, former students, victims, police sources, parents and lawyers — some on the record, and some off — that were the most fruitful.

I found witnesses to the indiscretions of all three teachers.

I found some adults who knew about it at the time, some of whom had even spoken out.

But the teachers weren't stopped, and the number of victims multiplied.

The reaction

Victims and people totally unconnected to the cases were outraged by the CBC's findings.

Immediately after the stories were published, emails poured into CBC Ottawa inboxes, including mine, from as far away as New Zealand and England. Others arrived from Edmonton, Victoria, B.C., Vancouver, Saint John, N.B., Yarmouth, N.S., and all over Ontario.

There were allegations about abusive teachers at different schools across Canada, and some new information about the teachers at Bell High School. Some alleged victims said they'd never told anyone about their assaults until their note to me.

Victim Peter Hamer, left, decided to tell CBC his story in March 2018, just before his former teacher Bob Clarke was sentenced to prison time. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

The messages included phrases like "keep digging," this is the "tip of the iceberg," "there is a bigger picture," and "thank you, Julie, for this powerful story. It makes a difference."

But six letters voiced concern and disappointment about the allegations against Greenham and Stanutz in particular, who died before their cases were heard in court.

"Shocked and disappointed to hear CBC devolve into playing judge and jury," wrote one angry reader.

What comes next

There are some stories not yet told after new charges were laid against Bob Clarke, who is currently in prison.

Victims have urged me to keep this file open.

Some of their narratives will be woven into a CBC original podcast in the new year, called The Band Played On.

About the Author

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the new CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On. You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca