Ottawa

School board sued for millions over eastern Ontario teacher's sex crimes

Two women and their families are suing a former teacher convicted of sex crimes in Perth, Ont., and the school board he worked for in separate lawsuits each claiming millions in damages.

Perth, Ont., victims say impact of sexual abuse will be lifelong

Jeff Peters pleaded guilty in April to sexual assault of two former students. These are photos of the former teacher from high school yearbooks. (St. John Catholic High School)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

A young woman and her family have had to move out of their eastern Ontario town after the woman's teacher groomed and sexually abused her, and now the family is suing the school board for millions.

That is one of two separate civil lawsuits filed by two victims of former teacher Jeff Peters.

"It was unbearable to be in that community with all the triggers and reminders," said lawyer Elizabeth Grace, who represents one of the victims. 

"The survivor and her family should not be the ones leaving, but the reality is their lives were too difficult to remain in Perth. They had to leave. It's a tragedy."

The two lawsuits name Peters and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario as defendants and each claim millions of dollars in damages.

The front of St. John Catholic High School during the summer.
Jeff Peters taught history and religion and coached sports teams for several years at St. John Catholic High School in Perth, Ont. (Julie Ireton/CBC)

Former teacher convicted in April

This past April, Peters was convicted of sex crimes against two of his former students at St. John Catholic High School in Perth, southwest of Ottawa, between 2013 and 2016. 

At least five victims went to police and more charges were initially laid, but the conviction was part of a plea deal limited to two charges. 

Peters was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and he is currently in custody at the Joyceville Institution near Kingston, Ont.

In a CBC investigation last spring, other former students told CBC they were groomed and had sexual encounters with Peters as far back as 2005.

The names of the victims who recently filed lawsuits remain under a publication ban. Family members of the women are also named as plaintiffs in the suits. 

The school board has filed statements of defence in each of the civil suits stating, "at all times material, it conducted itself reasonably and in accordance with the standard of care of a reasonably prudent Board of Education."

The board's statement of defence also notes Peters was seen to be a "model professional educator, respected and admired by students, parents, co-workers, other educators and the school board itself."

School board calls allegations 'frivolous'

One of the lawsuits claims Peters was a predator who had a pattern of "sexualized misconduct towards other female students" by targeting, grooming and manipulating them "to submit to sexualized touching on the high school's premises". 

The school board's statement of defence calls these allegations "scandalous, frivolous, or vexatious."

"Those are strong words, and in the circumstances, I don't believe it is any of these things," said Grace, whose client and her family are suing for a total of nearly $4 million.

"The board repeatedly framed its defence arguments in the language of 'if' my client was subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation by Peters, when it's a matter of public record that Peters was criminally convicted and sentenced for doing precisely these things," said Grace. 

Lawyer Elizabeth Grace of Lerners LLP represents one of the women Peters was convicted of sexually abusing when she was his student. (Elizabeth Grace)

Long-term effects

In the statement of claim against Peters and the school board, Grace details crimes against her client including "intrusive sexual violations," "forced fellatio" and "unprotected" sex in an "undignified position." 

Both lawsuits also list the long-term effects of the assaults. 

"My client is only 19. The impact will be lifelong," said Toronto lawyer Carr Hatch, who represents another victim. 

Carr says the young woman suffers from suicidal ideation, nightmares, bulimia, excessive drinking, and has become depressed and withdrawn. 

That plaintiff and her family are claiming more than $11 million in damages from Peters and the school board, alleging the board was "willfully blind" to the teacher's "sexually predatory behaviour."

Peters was first charged by police in November 2019 and his employment with the board was terminated in January 2020, according to documents.

Disciplinary hearing for Peters

The Ontario College of Teachers, the regulatory body responsible for issuing and revoking teaching licences in the province, has called a disciplinary hearing for Peters in November. 

In its notice of hearing, the college alleges Peters is guilty of professional misconduct for sexual, psychological and emotional abuse of students.

A new law in Ontario that went into effect last year mandates any educator disciplined for sexually abusive conduct receive a lifetime ban from teaching. 

More recently there have been calls for a new, independent body to investigate teachers alleged to have abused students. 

The board says it has implemented multiple measures to ensure the safety of students, including additional training to school staff. 

"The board will continue to adhere to policies and procedures that ensures all necessary measures are in place to enhance the safety and well-being of students and staff," it said in an email to CBC.

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 CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On found at: cbc.ca/thebandplayedon You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca

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