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Former Victoria student awarded $2.3M in sex abuse case

The courthouse in Victoria is shown in this file photo (CTV News) The courthouse in Victoria is shown in this file photo (CTV News)
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Warning: This story is about the sexual abuse of a child and may be disturbing to readers. 

A former Victoria public school student has been awarded more than $2.3 million from the estate of a school tutor who sexually abused him as a child. His lawyers say the decision amounts to the "highest compensatory damages award for sexual abuse in Canada," but the plaintiff says survivors like him still have a long way to go before justice is achieved.

The plaintiff, now 35 years old and identified only as "H.N." in the court documents, brought the civil lawsuit against the estate of Gary John Redgate, who volunteered at the plaintiff's elementary school in 1999 and 2000.

The former student also sought damages from the Greater Victoria School District for "vicarious liability" related to the abuse, however B.C. Supreme Court Justice Simon Coval dismissed the claim against the school board, saying the abuse was "insufficiently connected to any risk created by the school or its representatives."

"This is because Mr. Redgate’s abuse occurred, not during the tutorials organized by the school, but at Mr. Redgate's home, in visits arranged between Mr. Redgate and H.N. and his family," the judge wrote in his decision Monday.

Redgate died in 2023, before the trial began. Lawyers for his estate did not challenge the estate's liability for his actions, but they did contest the value of the award sought for pain and suffering, loss of earning capacity, cost of future care and punitive damages.

"I am deeply disappointed that the court declined to hold the school board – the very institution that was responsible for introducing me to Redgate and the very institution that created the environment in which Redgate was enabled to abuse me – liable for Redgate’s actions," the plaintiff wrote in a statement through his lawyers following the decision.

"My goal in bringing this litigation has always been to ensure that this doesn’t happen to another child," he added. "The current state of the law on vicarious liability of institutions, as recited by our trial judge, is not effective in keeping children safe."

Promising student

The plaintiff testified that he was tutored by Redgate, a retired teacher, when he began writing a novel in sixth grade. The plaintiff's teacher had recommended Redgate, whose wife had recently died, believing the tutorship would be beneficial for both the student and the grieving educator.

The two met weekly during English class to work on the story, first using an empty classroom and eventually meeting at Redgate's home. When the tutor began showing up at the Grade 6 student's sporting events, the boy's mother raised the issue with the teacher, who spoke with Redgate, prompting him to stop attending.

While the teacher was initially named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit, the former student dropped his claims against the teacher at trial.

Tutor became 'infatuated'

The former student described the tutor's physical advances beginning with a hug at school during his Grade 6 year and progressing the following year with the tutor becoming "increasingly attached and infatuated," the judge said.

"Mr. Redgate began saying that without H.N. in his life, he would have nothing to live for," according to the judge. "Soon, he began making threats of suicide. H.N. testified to recognizing, in retrospect, that he was continuously manipulated by Mr. Redgate into feeling badly for him and trying to help him."

The tutor's hugs turned to kisses around seventh grade, the former student testified. Later, the tutor would ask the student to lie on top of him. "Mr. Redgate told H.N. this released the pressure of trying other sexual acts that he wanted to do," according to the court decision.

"Sometimes Mr. Redgate wore sweatpants and was erect, which H.N. found disgusting. Mr. Redgate said he wanted to show H.N. his penis and did so at least once," the decision continues. "On one occasion, Mr. Redgate had H.N. kneel across him while he put his hands down the back of H.N.'s pants and squeezed his buttocks. H.N. testified to feeling completely frozen. Afterwards, Mr. Redgate said that H.N. not telling him to stop was a signal from God that his attraction to H.N. was permissible."

The abuse continued after the student graduated from the school, including instances in the locker room of a local squash club where the two would play in 2003 and 2004. It finally ended when the boy was 15 or 16, old enough to tell the tutor the "door was closed," according to his testimony.

"At the same time, Mr. Redgate was becoming less interested now that H.N. was older," the court heard.

Lost future earnings

Despite achieving good grades throughout elementary school, the plaintiff testified that his academic performance fell off in middle school and high school, coinciding with the abuse.

"He felt nothing positive about the book he had written," the judge summarized. "Discussing it caused him to panic and shut down because it was entangled with Mr. Redgate's abuse and the associated pressures to shield their relationship."

The plaintiff eventually went to university and started a business, however he suffers from "unwelcome reminders" of the abuse, and his struggles to connect with people have led to decreased sales at his business, he told the court.

Expert testimony

A psychiatrist provided expert testimony at the trial, diagnosing the plaintiff as suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, which he called "an indelible mark," as a result of the abuse.

The plaintiff also called an expert in labour economics, who provided statistical estimates for the lifetime earnings of men in British Columbia who attain a master's or doctorate degree.

"There is a real and substantial possibility that (H.N.) would have gone on to obtain a post-graduate degree or degrees, such as perhaps a master's or law degree," the judge said, basing the assumption on the student's prior academic performance and his musings about becoming a lawyer in the author page of his novel.

'Highest award' for sexual abuse in Canada

The judge awarded the plaintiff $2,338,241 from the Redgate estate, with the amount for lost future earning capacity making up the bulk of the award at $1,997,000. Nearly a quarter-million dollars was awarded for pain and suffering, while $62,000 was awarded for lost past earning capacity, $47,500 was awarded for future care and $6,471 was set aside for special damages.

"On the face of it, I am encouraged by the court’s award, as it makes a strong recognition of the gravity and extent of harm Redgate inflicted upon me as a young child, and the impacts of which I will deal with for the rest of my life," the plaintiff said in his post-judgement statement. "Notably, it is my understanding that this award is the highest award of compensatory damages for sexual abuse ever given in Canada."

But, the plaintiff added, his victory in the civil suit won't protect other vulnerable students from similar abuse.

"Without a doubt, there is another child in British Columbia at this very moment being groomed and abused, in the exact same way I was – by someone known to the child and their family," he said.

"This judgement represents a continuation of the legal status quo, and that child, and others, will continue to pay the price until the law develops to protect vulnerable children by holding institutions accountable."  

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