MONTREAL – A Montreal school board has paid $12,000 to the family of a former student who was bullied in a case that’s being described as the first of its kind in Quebec.
Shortly after moving to Quebec from Eastern Europe, an 11-year-old girl claimed was the victim of bullying so severe in her welcome class that she was forced to drop out.
The victim was a Grade 6 student at École Saint-Vincent-Marie in Montreal North during the 2011-2012 academic year. The school is part of the Pointe-de-l’Île school board (CSPI).
“The welcome class helps children adapt to the Quebec school system, but she was subject to quite serious harassment over six to seven months,” explained Stewart Istvanffy, the family’s lawyer.
“It started with small things pulling hair, knocking her down in the school yard but accelerated to the point that she was subject to harassment and even a death threat.”
The girl also alleged a group of five boys sexually assaulted her on several occasions in the school’s unisex bathroom.
“It was quite a difficult situation for her,” Istvanffy told Global News.
“She got felt up, hands in her pants and stuff like that on two or three occasions.”
She left the school shortly after.
Who’s to blame?
Istvanffy claims the school board failed to have proper measures in place to stop or prevent bullying.
“She and her parents tried to speak to the teacher of the class and get some help,” said Istvanffy.
“There were some brief interventions, but nothing really happened.”
The family also went to the school’s director on several occasions to ask for help.
“They [the board] were aware of all the efforts for help and they got almost no help at all,” Istvanffy told Global News, adding that the school tried to turn the blame on the victim.
“It was a typical sexual harassment case where they tried to pretend that she brought it on herself. The judge didn’t buy that.”
According to Judge Stephen W. Hamilton, the CPSI knew the victim was having issues with the group of boys, but failed to protect her.
The judgment found there’s was nothing in place to prevent harassment and no guidelines to help teachers deal with such a situation.
“In law, school commissions must protect young children in their care,” said Istvanffy, adding that it’s the first case of its kind in Quebec.
The family asked for $100,000 in damages.
Global News contacted the CPSI, but was told the school board would not comment on the case or the judgement.
Since the incident, the girl, who is now a teenager, has left school, and “is anxious and suicidal,” the family’s lawyer said.
She recently spent three weeks in hospital after suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, Istvanffy added.
“She’s been in hospital two to three times over last three years with depression and problems of self-esteem,” said Istvanffy.
“The fact that we won this judgment will allow her to get past this, but it made her lose at least a couple of years of school.”
“She’s actually quite brilliant and I suspect she’ll do well in school but she hasn’t because of this.”
Police were also called in to investigate the incident.
The five boys, who are around the same age as the victim, were suspended from school.
“I don’t think they’ll ever do this again,” said Istvanffy.
“After this event happened, in Quebec, the whole question of bullying became a political football and right now there’s a legal obligation to have anti-harassment measures in place. These exist at that board now.
“The people who did nothing to protect the girl have learned their lesson.”