WARNING: This story describes incidents of sexual assault that may be triggering to some readers.
Anne-Marie Robinson hadn’t picked up her French horn in years, but her daughter had finally cajoled her into joining a community band in Ottawa.
It was 2014, and Robinson had just arrived for her first rehearsal.
As she scanned the faces of the other musicians in the room, Robinson suddenly stopped cold, like she’d seen a ghost. In a way, she had.
There, cradling his trombone, was Douglas Walker, Robinson’s old high school music teacher and the other new band member to appear at rehearsal that night.
“It was shocking,” she recalled. “I had imagined him as being so much older than me that he had to be dead.”
Robinson, now 61, had suppressed the memories of what Walker had done to her in the 1970s when she was a teenager, but now she felt exposed all over again. He had recognized her, too.
This chance encounter would alter the trajectory of her life once more, sending her down a path she never intended to take. But this time, she’d find an unexpected ally along the way.
Seventeen years earlier, on the other side of the continent, Jeanie McKay paused to feel the sun on her face before boarding a tour bus at Los Angeles International Airport.
She was about to embark on a junket for music teachers, sponsored by Disney.
“I got on the bus and I froze,” recalled McKay, now 58. “There he was.”
She struggled for breath and rushed past Douglas Walker to a seat at the back. When a tour guide came to check on her, McKay was shaking.
If he was on this trip, she knew it meant he was still teaching, still running high school bands.
“There’s a guy on this bus, he molested me in high school. He shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t be around students,” McKay blurted out, pointing at Walker.
But it was McKay, not Walker, who would get off the bus. Her tour was over.
Robinson and McKay have traveled remarkably similar paths since high school, but had never met in person.
Both married young, had children early and got divorced, twice each. Both attended university as mature students, established successful careers, and married again.
Before all that, as teenagers, both had sex with the same music teacher.
William Douglas Walker, 74, taught music for 25 years. As a warrant officer with the Canadian military, he recruited students into the Royal Regiment of Canada Band.
A CBC investigation has uncovered a dark history of alleged serial abuse in Toronto-area band programs dating back decades, and has connected victims, witnesses and events that were either missed, ignored or minimized by school administrators, the military and police.
The victims say while shame and guilt kept them from coming forward sooner, unsympathetic authorities and antiquated laws left them retraumatized – but also sent them on a search for accountability.
An apology would come, belatedly and indirectly, but not before the women would discover they aren’t the only ones to have endured this teacher’s abuse.
Robinson lets her long brown bangs fall over her face, partially covering her green eyes, like she wants to hide.
She wasn’t always this timid. In her former jobs as a deputy minister and president of the Public Service Commission of Canada, Robinson appeared regularly before parliamentarians, senators and the Ottawa media.
In fluent bureaucratise, she can still rattle off stats and protocols. Start talking federal government policy and her face actually lights up, a flicker of the person she was before that fateful band rehearsal.
Robinson’s daughter, who’s now studying music at Juilliard in New York City, was in high school in Ottawa when she convinced her mom to pick up an instrument again.
“She begged me to start playing with her,” Robinson said.
Eventually she relented and bought a used French horn.
“It was exciting for me because it was recovering something that I had lost,” she recalled. “I remember saying to myself, ‘OK, this practically destroyed me when I was young, but I am strong now.’”
But when she saw Walker, that strength dissolved and she was immediately transported back to 1977 and her first high school band trip.
There was her teacher, standing over her in black underwear. They were in his hotel room in Belleville, Ont., where Walker had been drinking alcohol with teenage band members earlier that night.
I remember it being humiliating. I never resisted, because I was under his control.
Robinson, then 16, had ended up in his bed after everyone else had left.
“What I see now, given the fact that I was drunk with the alcohol he gave me, as a rape,” Robinson said. “I remember waking up the next morning and being really scared.”
It would be the first of many sexual encounters with Walker, according to Robinson. They took place in hotel rooms, in his car and in the closet of the music room at Eastern High School of Commerce in Toronto’s Danforth area, while Robinson was in grades 10 and 11.
“I remember it being humiliating. I never resisted, because I was under his control,” she recalled more than four decades later.
Robinson quit school in Grade 11 to get away from her teacher.
“No one from the school asked why, which is surprising since I had good marks,” she recalled.
No one at home questioned her decision because she had started working and the extra money was welcome.
Once the initial shock of seeing Walker again subsided, Robinson reasoned that talking with him about what had happened all those years ago might help her move past it. They met for coffee.
“It was a disastrous meeting for me,” Robinson said. “All I wanted from him was a heartfelt apology, but I particularly wanted him to acknowledge that I was a child at the time and he was an adult.”
Instead, she said Walker told her she had been the love of his life.
Nothing kept me safe from him. It just collapsed around me. I kind of became that ... Grade 10 girl who he had manipulated.
“I felt like he was trying to suck me back in,” Robinson said.
The experience left her profoundly shaken.
“I started having panic attacks and anxiety. I was diagnosed with delayed-onset PTSD, and then I went on a long struggle to try to recover.”
She left the job she loved, and never told any of her colleagues why. She eventually took early retirement.
“I couldn’t be Anne-Marie Robinson, the deputy minister, and that girl. We just could not coexist,” she said. “Nothing kept me safe from him. It just collapsed around me. I kind of became that ... Grade 10 girl who he had manipulated.”
Jeanie McKay was just 16 when she first had sex with Walker, a man twice her age, in the backseat of his little green car after band practice.
“That was my first time ever,” said McKay, who was in Grade 10 at Markham District High School when Walker became head of the music program in 1979.
“What a hideous human to take advantage, because there I was, a young, hormonal kid.”
McKay knew precisely how many times they had intercourse because she would carve a notch into the desk in her bedroom each time.
“It was 56 times,” she said, adding Walker suggested she go on the birth control pill.
McKay would eventually become a music teacher herself, but could never forget what had happened to her in high school. Standing there in front of the rows of teenage musicians, she was struck by an awful realization.
“The first day I raised my baton and I saw him,” she said. “My brain instantly flashed onto the horror of it all. I, all of a sudden, had all the power in the room.”
Now 58 and a grandmother, McKay lives in the Vancouver area with her husband. She’s still a teacher, but no longer teaches music or conducts the school band because of the painful memories it dredged up.
Even so, the memories persist.
“There’s not a day that I don’t think about it. Not a single day,” McKay said. “It’s not a pleasant flash. It’s a heart-racing kind of gut-clenching flash.”
She wonders how many other women share that pain.
McKay witnessed other teen girls getting too close to Walker. She now knows there were others who had sexual encounters with the teacher.
Walker was tall with sandy blond hair, a moustache and a “big beer belly,” according to McKay. He had moved to her school after leaving Robinson’s in January 1979. It was his third school in four years.
Throughout his teaching career, Walker would be part of music programs at seven Ontario schools: Port Credit Secondary School, Eastern High School of Commerce, Markham District High School, Milliken Mills High School, Vaughan Secondary School, King City Secondary School and Stouffville District Secondary School.
It’s unclear why he moved around so much, or why he sometimes only stayed put for a year or two.
CBC spoke to several former students from both Eastern Commerce and Markham High who still remember the music teacher and his unorthodox behaviour.
They all recall Walker drinking alcohol with his students.
“He had a crowd around him that just thought he was God,” McKay said. “He’d be drinking alongside us and we’d all be rip-roaring – and driving of course – back to band practice.”
He was desperate to be loved by these kids, [but] no matter what he got, it was never enough.
Some also describe a “sexualized atmosphere” between Walker and certain teens in the band room, sometimes involving pornography.
“All of a sudden there would be a Penthouse [magazine],” she recalled.
He would favour certain students and belittle others, and several former students told CBC he’d regularly throw temper tantrums.
“Every time he came into the band room, I would freeze because I was worried that he would lash out,” said Christine Sawczak, Robinson’s close friend at Eastern Commerce. “You were terrified of being yelled at or humiliated.”
That behaviour wasn’t limited to Walker’s students, according to a former colleague.
“He was a teacher for the cool kids and he’d put me down,” said former Markham music teacher Andrew Slonetsky.
Slonetsky said he saw Walker drinking alcohol with students and reported it to school administrators, but nothing was ever done.
But Slonetsky said he never knew Walker was having sex with students.
“What I saw was a really unhealthy dynamic,” Slonetsky said. “He was desperate to be loved by these kids, [but] no matter what he got, it was never enough.”
In their red and gold uniforms, shiny black boots and bearskin hats, members of the Royal Regiment of Canada Band play for royalty, perform at international music festivals and set out on parade from the Fort York Armoury in downtown Toronto.
The band, commonly referred to as The Royals, is among the oldest in the Canadian Forces, and is part of the military reserve.
Doug Walker’s former military colleagues say he started playing with The Royals as a teen. He went on to become an assistant conductor and a warrant officer, remaining in the band for many years, while continuing to teach full time.
During the summer school break, he sometimes ran a military band training program for students.
Though they never met, Walker introduced both Anne-Marie Robinson and Jeanie McKay to the band when they were teens, a few years apart.
“For someone who was raised by a single mother on social assistance, I think I got paid $50 a concert, which in the 70s was incredible,” said Robinson.
It was a rare opportunity, according to Robinson, who said she was the only female playing with the band at the time. She was in Grade 10.
Robinson still wonders why no one asked questions.
“Red flags should have gone up for them and nobody did anything,” she said.
“The military has a lot of accountability in this.”
Walker would later introduce many of his high school music students to the regimental band, both boys and girls. Some would go on to serve for decades in the military.
The women say there was often beer for the teens after practice. Sexual encounters would sometimes follow.
Robinson quit the band around the time she left school, but McKay would eventually become a full-fledged member.
McKay still squirms when she describes one incident around 1979 when a group of girls from Markham High, students playing with The Royals, gathered to say goodbye to Walker in the parking lot at Fort York.
“He actually leaned down and gave us all goodnight kisses with tongue. Our teacher, the guy that had brought us down to attend this really exciting, grown-up practice,” McKay said.
Barrie Hodgins, who taught with Walker at Eastern Commerce and also played in The Royals, said he saw Walker pay close attention to certain girls including Robinson and McKay.
“I warned Doug about doing what he was doing,” Hodgins said. “I didn’t know how far it was going.”
It’s unclear why Walker eventually left the band and the regiment. The Department of National Defence told CBC it has no record of complaints against him.
Neither McKay nor Robinson told anyone what was going on with Walker while they were in high school.
Years later, Robinson finally told her school friend Christine Sawczak, who said she had always suspected.
“I couldn’t help, because what can I say or do?” Sawczak said. “How do you, as a 15- or 16-year-old, make sense of that?”
Jackie Short was McKay’s friend and bandmate at Markham in the early 1980s. Short, now an opera singer and music professor at Western University, has kept her diaries from that time.
Yellowed pages of neat cursive detail their teenage angst and reveal their teacher put himself at the centre of attention.
Today, Short wonders what might have happened if she’d been less wary.
“He was going on a teacher conference to Montreal and asked me if I would go with him,” she said. “I think I was pulled into that path and somehow ran the other way.”
Short witnessed inappropriate behaviour with two other students.
During a band trip to Germany in 1982, McKay’s final year at Markham, Short told a school administrator, who was there as a chaperone, everything she knew and suspected about Walker.
“I told him about Jeanie, I told him about the two other girls. I told him that he had propositioned me a couple of times. I said he always was buying drinks for all the students,” Short recalled.
“My sister was in the band, and I remember thinking, something needs to be done because I don’t want my sister to be a victim.”
But as far as Short knows, nothing was done about her complaint.
Walker continued as head of music at Markham for years, eventually transferring to another school in 1987.
“Shame on Walker, but shame on that administrator,” Short said.
McKay still thinks administrators and those in charge at the York Region District School Board have some culpability for what happened.
She has filed a lawsuit against the board.
In its defence, the school board says no one raised concerns about Walker when he was in its employment.
After her encounter with Walker on the bus at LAX in 1997, McKay realized she needed to do something.
“If that could affect me 15 years later, I knew that if it did that to me, a perfectly competent adult, I had to do something about it.”
She called York Regional Police.
McKay has shared her police files from 1999. Barely legible scribbles, photocopied from a detective’s notebook, describe brief conversations with former teachers at Markham District High School. The reports describe intimate details and her concerns about other potential victims.
Since Walker was still teaching, police had a duty to report to the Children’s Aid Society and the York Region District School Board.
But according to those police files, both organizations said they needed more evidence “to take action at this time,” and with no “reasonable prospect for conviction,” police never laid chages.
“And so nothing happened,” said McKay.
The Ontario College of Teachers kept investigating, however.
Short sent along those diary entries, while other former students provided information and photos. McKay sent pictures of the 56 notches in her old desk.
Police made Walker aware of a complaint against him, and in July 1999 he resigned from teaching.
In supportive character references sent to the Ontario College of Teachers in 2000, it appears Walker told friends he’d resigned over an affair decades before.
Some believed him, and took his side.
“I feel that Doug has been extremely mistreated in this matter,” one supporter wrote to the Ontario College of Teachers. “I admit the original affair, although consensual, was wrong. But to bring it to light over 20 years after the fact, and to cost Doug his teaching career, seems overly punitive.”
In February 2001, the Ontario College of Teachers found Walker had “violated one of the most sacred trusts possible in the student relationship … and his actions in this regard were reprehensible.”
For his professional misconduct violation, sexually abusing Jeanie McKay over nearly two years, and for supplying alcohol to other underage students, Walker was fined $2,000. He also agreed to never teach again, in any jurisdiction.
In an article published in the Toronto Star on Valentine’s Day in 2001, Walker dismissed it all as a “blip.”
“It’s been an honour to be a teacher and except for this blip, I think I did a good job. I’m sorry to have let the profession down,” said Walker, according to the Toronto Star article.
To McKay, that “blip” caused her lasting trauma, and she knew she couldn’t be the only one.
“I still am filled with self-reproach, even with the logical knowledge that I am a victim and it isn’t my fault. He took advantage of me,” she wrote in her victim impact statement.
But Anne-Marie Robinson had no idea the hearing had even taken place. No other victims of sexual abuse were mentioned in the college’s findings.
Years later, Robinson would also go to police, and in 2019, Toronto police laid historical sex crime charges against Doug Walker, then in his early 70s.
Because police never issued a news release about the charges, McKay had no idea. Nearly two decades had passed since she filed her own complaint to York Regional Police, and it doesn’t appear investigators ever linked the two cases.
The charges against Walker would later be limited to one count of rape, an offence that was still on the books in 1977 when that fateful band trip to Belleville took place.
Under that old law, the Crown had to prove that sexual intercourse had occurred, that it occurred without Robinson’s consent, and that she was not Walker’s wife.
But the case was dismissed before it got to trial.
While most would view that as highly improper and wrong at the time, it did not fit into the category of being a criminal offence.
In September 2021, Justice J.C. Moore ruled the relationship between Walker and Robinson had “evolved” to include “consensual sexual activity, spending much of their free time together and talk of love and marriage.”
Robinson characterizes the “relationship” quite differently: as a power imbalance between a kid and an adult.
“While most would view that as highly improper and wrong at the time, it did not fit into the category of being a criminal offence,” said Moore.
While she could remember her teacher giving her beer, the black underwear or being scared afterwards, Robinson couldn’t remember if she had said no to sex.
According to Moore, there was no evidence Robinson had not consented, and “to infer otherwise would be based on speculation, unsupported conjecture and wishful thinking.
“Mr. Walker is therefore discharged and is free to go.”
It had taken Robinson 40 years to work up the courage to go to police, but in the end, a judge decided Walker had done nothing wrong under the laws that applied at the time.
Robinson never heard from Walker throughout the court process. He never explained himself or apologized to her.
CBC contacted the former teacher and while he declined an offer to be interviewed, he sent several emails with explanations.
In one note he writes: “There are no excuses and no justification for my behaviour. I was irresponsible, immature and arrogant. I am so sorry to have involved these outstanding and courageous women in relationships which were inappropriate in all ways. I understand the negative effect that this has had on them.”
An apology now, through a CBC journalist, doesn’t mean much to either Robinson or McKay.
“It doesn’t give us back the nights we were awake with anguish or shame,” said McKay. “There is nothing I gain.”
But Robinson said there is something he could give.
“Telling the truth and providing a list of other girls that perhaps need help,” she said.
I’m 61 now and I still have nightmares about this, and there needs to be reconciliation.
When the message flashed on her phone, Jeanie McKay’s knees buckled.
“I just sobbed, just lost it,” McKay said, recalling the day CBC and Anne-Marie Robinson found her and got in touch.
“I knew someone existed from the other school. My husband just held on to me while I cried. I said, ‘We’ve found her. There’s more of us.’”
McKay and Robinson hope others will reach out.
“It broke the cycle of loneliness,” Robinson told McKay recently over a video call.
“Jeanie, you’re my hero because you did what I should have done in Grade 10. I should have reported him and I didn’t.”
The guilt is still there, but there’s also validation and a shared resolve to find more survivors.
“I want to hear from the kids right after me, because I want to let them know that they were really, seriously wronged by the system,” McKay said.
“I’m 61 now and I still have nightmares about this, and there needs to be reconciliation,” Robinson added.
The women want answers from the school boards, the police and the military, and they believe finding each other after all these years has given them the strength they’ll need.
“I just know that you exist and you’re part of me now,” McKay tells Robinson.
Robinson smiles and nods, and sweeps the hair from her face.
“I really want to find these women and support them and help them because it meant so much to me to find Jeanie,” she answers. “Even if they never contact us, they know they’re not alone.”
If you need help: