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

Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)
B.C. is ‘stereotyping’ churches as riskier for COVID than other spaces, lawyer argues

Judge said that freedom of expression, religion are not at issue in the case

A real estate sold sign hangs in front of a Canadian property Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy.
Fraser Valley Real Estate Board breaks sales records 6 months in a row

‘Levels never seen before in the 100-year history of the FVREB’

Last year’s Gift of Love Gala for Canuck Place Children’s Hospice was held Feb. 29, 2020 at Abbotsford Centre. The 2021 version went virtual. (File photo by Lindsay Elliott)
Gift of Love Gala raises $367K for Canuck Place

Event normally held at Abbotsford Centre went virtual for 2021

(Black Press file photo)
Homicide team to look into death of 11-year-old Harrison Mills boy

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

St. John Brebeuf student Adam Bouwman has advanced in the RBC Training Ground search after Rowing Canada expressed interest in him. (Submitted)
Abbotsford student attracts interest from Rowing Canada

St. John Brebeuf student Adam Bouwman advances in RBC Training Ground program

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Nanaimo RCMP are looking for a suspect who smashed the window of an adult toy store and made off with more than $1,200 in merchandise. (File photo)
Vancouver Island sex shop out $1,200 in merchandise after suspect steals ‘colossal’ product

Suspect smashed window of Whispers Adult Superstore overnight Feb. 21

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell gets acquainted with Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird’s 10-month-old daughter Sophia, husband Steve and four-year-old Amy at the B.C. legislature before a ceremony to endorse the Tsawwassen Treaty, Oct. 15, 2007. (Sharon Tiffin/Black Press)
Indigenous consent comes first and last for B.C. industrial projects

Environment minister can still approve permits without consent

After a routine rescue of an injured hiker, Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue noted there have been four injury rescues on well-groomed trails in recent months. (Special to The News)
Injured hiker rescued from Golden Ears park

Be prepared in the backcountry, warns Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue

B.C.’s court of appeal in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Kootenay man appeals 7-year conviction for New Year’s Eve kidnapping, beating

Brandon Coons, 27, was convicted on five charges, including assault with a weapon

An investigation is underway after two VPD officers were recorded posing for pictures near a dead body at Third Beach on Feb. 24. (Screen grab/Zachary Ratcliff)
Vancouver officers placed on desk duty after filmed posing next to dead body

Pair put in ‘non-deployable, admin positions’ as the investigation into their conduct continues

Vancouver Giants president, governor and majority owner Ron Toigo welcomed the provincial announcement made on Monday, Mar. 1, 2021 that the province could soon allow WHL teams to resume competitive play. (Vancouver Giants/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Return to play news welcomed by Vancouver Giants team

rOwner, coach and players pleased by report WHL could soon resume play in B.C.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Surrey RCMP are investigating a reported assault at Panorama Ridge Secondary. (Shane MacKichan photos)
UPDATE: Third youth arrested after assault with weapon at Panorama Ridge Secondary in Surrey

School placed on a ‘hold and secure’ until safety of all students confirmed

Most Read