Ex-teacher who filmed students with spy pen, Ontario school board named in $200K civil suit

April 23, 2021

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A former London, Ont., high school student has filed a $200,000 civil suit against her ex-teacher and the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB), alleging he caused her psychological and emotional harm after he secretly filmed her chest at school without her knowledge or consent.

Madison Woodburn was one of 27 teenagers who were filmed by Ryan Jarvis while he taught English at H.B. Beal Secondary School between 2010 and 2011. She was 14 and in Grade 9 when he used a camera hidden inside a pen to film parts of her body.

"The videos focused on the plaintiff's upper body, including but not limited to her breasts," says the statement of claim filed Tuesday in a London court. "The plaintiff had no knowledge she was being videotaped, nor did she consent to the recordings being taken."

The lawsuit has yet to be tested in court.

'Unusual interest' in female students

The civil suit is the latest chapter in a precedent-setting Canadian legal case that saw Jarvis, whose teaching certification was revoked, become the first person in Canada to serve jail time on a voyeurism conviction. He was sentenced in August 2019 to six months in jail.

It took Woodburn eight years of legal battles that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to get justice, and now she hopes to take Jarvis to court again, along with his former employer, to hold them both to account for what she claims was a moral injury.

"I think there's a lot of unfinished business," she told CBC News in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I think everyone turned a blind eye to the school board. I'm fighting for others who have been in similar situations."

In doing what he did, the lawsuit claims, Jarvis abused his power and betrayed Woodburn's trust as an authority figure and the board, the lawsuit alleges, failed to protect her.

It claims teachers, staff, parents, students and others all had concerns about Jarvis's behaviour when it came to young female students.

Jarvis had an "unusual interest" in them, stood too close to them and spent too much time alone with them, the court filings said.

He also had "difficulties with his sexuality" and faced "allegations of improper conduct in his previous posting." It's why the lawsuit claims the board knew Jarvis "had the propensity to engage in such deviant behaviours and that he was in fact engaging in such deviant behaviours."

He also had little supervision, says Woodburn. She rarely did homework or tests in Jarvis's English class and he often showed films — obscure adaptations of Shakespeare that Woodburn said contained what she felt was an uncomfortable amount of nudity.

"The whole class was weirded out by them," she said.

Lawsuit alleges board failed in its response

When school officials found out Jarvis had secretly taped his students for a sexual purpose, the lawsuit claims, they failed to offer any emotional support or professional counselling to his victims.

Woodburn said that, after Jarvis was suspended, she came back to a school community that acted as if what the former teacher had done never happened.

"It was almost like an unspoken rule.

"There was no counselling. There was no assembly held. There was absolutely no talk of it."

"There was nothing done for the students." she said. "I know I wasn't the only person struggling with that."

"I started hating school. I could not trust a male teacher. It was so much to handle at the age of 14.

"For two years after this, if a teacher clicked a pen, I would start to have an anxiety attack in class," said Woodburn.

She also fought back feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, rage — all symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that lasted years, caused by what she saw as a betrayal by her former teacher and a school board who put him in a position of trust and responsibility while simultaneously failing to recognize his pattern of aberrant behaviour.

'Post-awareness conduct' taken into account

"The board should be held responsible for that," said Woodburn. "Whether it be public school or secondary school, these kids are minors and they deal with a traumatic event, it shows the school, the people they work with and trust every day, isn't there for them."

The case hinges on a concept of institutional accountability lawyers call "loco parentis," the idea that Jarvis and the school board had a duty of care for the then 14-year-old Woodburn akin to her own parents.

Because of a ruling last year against the Trillium and Lakelands District School Board, courts no longer just look at what school boards knew before an incident; they must also look at how school officials reacted thereafter.

"The law was so focused on what did you know before the acts took place," said Rob Talach, the lawyer representing Woodburn. "The courts in Ontario have now gone further and said 'we are also going to judge what you did after you found out.'

"I think that's the focus of the failings here is the post-awareness conduct."

CBC News reached out to Jarvis through a family member who lived at the address listed in the court filings, but he did not return the request for comment.

The TVDSB was also contacted. A spokesperson said the school board doesn't comment on legal matters before the courts.

Published on April 23, 2021

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