More on BC Sex Abuse Civil Claims; Consent and School Board Liability
Important reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding a Plaintiff just over $110,000 for damages flowing from a ‘consensual‘ sexual relationship she had with her high school teacher.
While today’s case is likely to receive media attention due to its sexual theme, it is worth discussing more so because it highlights two important topics that sometimes arise in sexual abuse civil prosecutions; consent and vicarious liability.
In today’s case (AB v. CD) the Plaintiff had several sexual encounters with her grade 12 English teacher. Following this relationship she sued him for damages and the school board claiming they were vicariously liable for the harm caused by the relationship. The claim against the teacher was successful but the claim against the school board was dismissed.
The nature of the sexual encounters are summarized at paragraphs 28-52 of the reasons for judgement. There is no need to repeat them here. The Plaintiff agreed that “she had consented to…the touching incidents“. Despite this admission, however, people in authority cannot have consensual sexual contact with people under their authority who are under 18 years of age as this is contrary to section 150.1 of Canada’s Criminal Code.
The school board’s lawyer argued that despite this prohibition, “consent remains a defence in a civil action for sexual assault“. Madam Justice Gray soundly rejected this argument finding as follows:
 The Criminal Code provisions recognize that young people are inherently vulnerable to persons in positions of authority or trust. While such young people may think that they are making a free choice to engage in a relationship with a person in authority, the very nature of the relationship precludes a free choice.
 Like Stromberg-Stein J., I conclude that it would introduce an odd and problematic inconsistency in the law if a young person were considered legally incapable of consenting to sexual activity for the purposes of the criminal law, but were capable of giving such consent in a related civil action.
 The public policy set out in the Criminal Code has the effect that a young person under the age of 18 cannot consent to sexual contact with a person in authority, as a matter of law, whether the applicable proceedings are criminal or civil.
 As a result, CD is liable to AB for any damages she suffered as a consequence of the sexual battery.
(on a related note, click here to read a BC Court of Appeal decision released this week upholding a criminal conviction of an individual who failed to let his partners know he was HIV positive finding this omission was a ‘fraudulent misrepresentation’ which overrides otherwise consensual sexual contact)
The next issue that was noteworthy was the Court’s discussion of vicarious liability. As previously discussed, the law sometimes holds an employer responsible for the deeds of an employee even though the employer did not act negligently. The law of the vicarious liability of School Boards for the sexual battery by teachers is still developing in Canada and there are relatively few judgements addressing this topic.
Madam Justice Gray found that the School Board should not be vicariously liable on the narrow facts of this case and in doing so provided a useful discussion of applicable legal principles at paragraphs 131-155 of the reasons for judgement and applied the Bazley principles to the facts of the case at paragraph 157.