School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)

Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

By Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince George Citizen

A victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a teacher in the 1980s has secured an apology and $1.1 million in damages from School District 57.

The terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit seeking damages for the abuse he suffered at the hands of Wendell Diakiw, who taught at Austin Road elementary school in Prince George during the 1970s and 1980s.

Had the school district not included an apology, Bruneau said he would have gone ahead with taking the matter to trial. As it stands, Bruneau was pleased with the school district’s response.

“The school district handled it so well and really did the right thing, which is unheard of, and I really want the news to reflect that and set a new precedent for other institutions to do the same,” Bruneau said in an interview.

According to a statement issued Thursday by London, Ontario-based Beckett Personal Injury Lawyers, the $1.1-million payout is understood to be the largest reported settlement of an individual teacher abuse case in British Columbia and will be covered by School District 57’s insurer.

Bruneau was a Grade 6 student at Austin Road when, according to the statement, the abuse began and continued for three years in the mid-1980s.

Bruneau, in turn, played a key role in Diakiw’s downfall.

In 1986, Bruneau, then 16 years old, attended Diakiw’s house with a tape recorder and secured a taped confession, which led to police charges. In 1987, Diakiw was charged with a range of sexual offences in relation to six students, including Bruneau, and was sentenced to five years in jail later the same year.

Bruneau was among four alleged victims for which Aaron Lealess, a lawyer at Beckett, had filed lawsuits against Diakiw and School District 57. The other three have also settled out of court but with the terms undisclosed due to confidentiality agreements.

Court records show that Bruneau’s case was the only one for which School District 57 did not file a response to the civil claim. Each of the claimants had sought as much as $3.2 million in damages.

“At the very beginning of the claim, you just pick a high number – that’s the maximum you could hope for basically, and then once more facts become known – you get all the medical records, education records, Mr. Bruneau was assessed by an expert psychologist – and so once you get all the information together, you get a bit better of an idea,” Lealess said in an interview.

“The plaintiff has their view of what the case is worth which is usually much higher than what the defence has their own view, which is much lower, and then this case was ultimately settled.”

Lealess said it was scheduled to proceed to trial this past November but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “and ultimately we were able to get a settlement.”

Lealess said the $1.1 million represents the damage Bruneau has suffered in terms of the impact on his education and career and the expenses related to a lifetime of counseling, as well as inpatient treatment due to the psychological fallout.

After living away from Prince George for 30 years, Bruneau has since moved back to the city. He expressed a degree of closure with the settlement and particularly the letter of apology.

“It’s a big shift in my thinking too, like the anger,” Bruneau said. “Now it’s a big thank you, I mean that’s a huge difference.”

Diakiw was also named in the lawsuits and has been served but has not filed statements of response. As such, Lealess said they will be pursing a default judgment.

“Now whether we can get a dime out of him is probably doubtful but we’re going to continue to pursue the case against him,” Lealess said. “It’s more for the principal of the matter.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a B.C. Ferries vessel. (File photo)
Nanaimo ferry passengers who refused to wear masks and caused disturbance fined $460 each

Incident happened Sunday, Feb. 21, aboard the Queen of Cowichan

Beef to the woman walking two dogs that attacked my two small chihuahua dogs along Estevan Road. I was dragged down the embankment with my dogs. All three of us were pinned against the fence by your dogs with no escape route. Your dogs were on retractable leashes that were not appropriate for their size and weight and you had no control over them at all.
Beefs & Bouquets, Feb. 24

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail editor@nanaimobulletin.com

The Port of Nanaimo has signed a 50-year-agreement with DP World around short-sea shipping operations at Duke Point Terminal. (News Bulletin file photo)
Port of Nanaimo and DP World sign 50-year shipping operations agreement

Lease agreement ‘important first step’ in $105-million Duke Point expansion project

A Nanaimo RCMP vehicle in the Woodgrove Centre parking lot. (News Bulletin file photo)
Woman groped by stranger in mall parking lot in Nanaimo

Incident happened near bus loop Saturday, Feb. 20, at about 4:45 p.m.

Stock photo
COVID-19 cases reported at Mountain View, Aspengrove schools

Public and independent schools report exposures of virus Feb. 16, Feb. 18-19 respectively

Beef to the woman walking two dogs that attacked my two small chihuahua dogs along Estevan Road. I was dragged down the embankment with my dogs. All three of us were pinned against the fence by your dogs with no escape route. Your dogs were on retractable leashes that were not appropriate for their size and weight and you had no control over them at all.
Beefs & Bouquets, Feb. 24

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail editor@nanaimobulletin.com

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
B.C. woman has nothing but praise for Elder Dog Canada

National organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but needs more clients to serve

Justin Morissette is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the altercation. He is not yet able to walk without assistance. (Justin Morissette, Twitter)
B.C. man suing city and police over violent altercation with anti-LGBTQ preacher

Justin Morissette argues police knew the threat the preacher posed, and failed to keep the peace

Mowi Canada West salmon farm in B.C. waters. Conservative MPs have backed an industry call for further discussions on the timeline for closing Discovery Island farms. (Photo supplied by Mowi Canada)
Conservative MPs back B.C. salmon farmers’ call for transparent discussions

Farm owners requested consultations, more time to leave Discovery Islands

Jack Barnes, who was Cowichan Valley Capitals property from May 2020 until last week, scores a goal for the Penticton Vees during the 2019-20 BCHL season. (Brennan Phillips/Black Press)
COVID-crunched BCHL facing trade deadline dilemma with its 20-year-olds

Hard decisions loom when BCHL may or may not resume play

UBC Okanagan students are among the most food insecure in Canada, according to a new study by UBC.
(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
UBC Okanagan students among most food insecure in Canada

42.3 per cent either can’t properly feed themselves, or are worried they will soon run out of money

A 19-year-old man is in police custody following a recent violent robbery and assault in Comox . (File photo)
Arrest made in violent robbery and assault of Comox gas station employee

19-year-old man in police custody after incident where woman was putting things in her car

COVID cases in the Bella Coola Valley have dropped to just four active cases (file photo)
Expanding social circles fuelling North Island COVID-19 spike

Comox Valley COVID spike the result of ‘a series of multiple social gatherings’

Most Read