Hundreds of women may have been victimized as teens by a Calgary teacher who died by suicide after he was charged with sexual offences against former students, according to lawyers who launched $40-million lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed in Calgary, is a proposed class action against the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) and Michael Gregory’s estate.
Gregory was a teacher at John Ware Junior High from 1986 to 2006.
There, he was known as “the cool teacher,” according to Eryn MacKenzie, who says she was victimized by Gregory.
“My very first sexual experience was with my teacher at his house, when I was 15,” MacKenzie said through tears at a Monday news conference.
She is one of three named complainants on the lawsuit which seeks to hold the CBE accountable, alleging teachers knew about Gregory’s behaviour, yet did nothing to protect students.
MacKenzie says she grieves her lost childhood.
“I remember being in my teens and watching people have fun and never being able to connect with that because I was hiding this inside of myself.”
In February, Gregory was charged with 17 counts of sexual assault and sexual exploitation involving six students. He took his own life five days later.
Despite his death, the police investigation continued and 10 more complainants were identified, and 35 new witnesses, according to Calgary police.
Lawyer Jonathan Denis, who filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs, alleges the school board failed to protect students.
“We are asserting that the CBE knew or ought to have known that this was going on,” said Denis. “But more importantly did not have an adequate process or protocol in place, a policy to investigate these claims.”
‘He never hid it’
Two women who say they were victimized by Gregory — MacKenzie and Kelly Schneider — spoke Monday as the named plaintiffs on the lawsuit alongside Cody Bonkowsky, who says he witnessed and tried to sound the alarm on Gregory’s alleged predatory behaviour.
Bonkowsky says he witnessed Gregory taking girls to his home straight from the school parking lot.
“He never hid it,” said Bonkowsky. “His truck was parked right outside of the office. He would stroll in and out every day, sometimes with the same student, sometimes with a different one.”
The lawsuit alleges Gregory used classic grooming techniques, first giving girls extra attention, then flirting and touching their legs or shoulders. Eventually, Gregory manipulated his victims into physical sexual relationships, some of which lasted years, the statement of claim alleges.
‘We didn’t have a voice’
Schneider says she was 14 when Gregory initiated a sexual relationship with her in 1989.
In her Grade 9 year, Gregory took Schneider out for lunches on school time. That’s when sexual activity would take place between the two, according to the lawsuit.
After discovering Gregory had been giving their daughter gifts including a poster, which he signed “Love, Mike,” Schneider’s parents took their concerns to the junior high’s vice principal.
That person — a friend of Gregory’s — was dismissive, according to the lawsuit and dealt with the issue by moving Schneider to another class.
“At 14, we didn’t have a voice,” said Schneider. “And because it didn’t go anywhere in 1989, it set the tone and stage for him to get away with it until 2006.”
‘I began to trust him implicitly’
Ten years after Schneider’s experience, MacKenzie says she became one of Gregory’s targets.
At the time, MacKenzie says she was vulnerable, struggled with self-harm and an eating disorder which Gregory helped her deal with.
“I began to trust him implicitly,” she said.
Within months, Gregory had groomed her into having regular physical sexual contact with him, the lawsuit alleges.
“I’m 34 now, and it has affected every single relationship I’ve ever had in my life.”
MacKenzie cut off contact with Gregory, according to the claim, after he encouraged her to take her own life for disclosing their relationship to another student.
When she was in university, she was contacted by an investigator with the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) who wanted to speak with her about Gregory’s conduct. She did not provide a statement.
In 2006, as a result of the ATA investigation connected to his conduct with students, Gregory’s teaching license was suspended and he ultimately left the profession the same year.
The Calgary Board of Education did not provide a comment and says it has not been formally served.
Once that happens, the board said it will “respond through the appropriate legal channels.”