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

A rockfall closed Finlayson Arm Road and West Shore Parkway on Friday (March 5) afternoon. (Twitter/BC Transportation)
UPDATED: Malahat reopens following rockfall

Section of Trans-Canada Highway was scheduled for intermittent closures today for rock scaling work

In years past in-person ceremonies have been held for International Women’s Day. This year the observance is going online on Monday, March 8, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (file photo)
Virtual ceremony for Women’s Day in Cowichan on Monday

Audrey George, manager of the Ts’i’ts’uwatul’ Lelum assisted living facility, will be keynote speaker.

North Cowichan councillor Rob Douglas is advocating for a pilot project that would see the forest industry on Vancouver Island and the coast managed regionally. (File photo)
N. Cowichan councillor continues push for regional management of forestry

North Cowichan councillor wants pilot project established

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor. (Photo by Bernard Thibodeau)
NDP tables dental care program

Millions of Canadians don’t visit the dentist every year because they can’t afford to.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Most Read