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‘I definitely feel cheated’: Former students suing deceased Calgary teacher, board

Gregory was charged in February with 17 counts of sexual assault and sexual exploitation
Lawyer Jonathan Denis speaks to reporters in Calgary, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. A proposed class-action lawsuit has been filed by a former junior high school students alleging sexual misconduct of a Calgary teacher who died in February. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland

A proposed class-action lawsuit has been filed by three former students of a Calgary junior high school alleging sexual misconduct by a teacher who died earlier this year.

The statement of claim names the estate of Michael Gregory, who worked at John Ware Junior High School for 20 years, as well as the Calgary Board of Education.

Gregory was charged in February with 17 counts of sexual assault and sexual exploitation. At the time, police said several former students had come forward with accusations against the teacher.

A few days later, police said Gregory had died and his death was not believed to be criminal.

For some former students, the fight in court is not over.

They have alleged abuse by Gregory and also claim that administrators and staff with the public school board were aware of the accusations but did nothing.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and a statement of defence has not been filed.

The school board did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One woman told a news conference Monday that she first met Gregory when she was in Grade 7. Over the next year, she said, he took her under his wing and sexually assaulted her.

“My very first sexual experience was with my teacher at his house when I was 15. I’m 34 now and it has affected every single relationship I’ve ever had in my life,” she said, wiping away tears.

“I decided this is enough. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, ever again … it changed me. I definitely feel cheated.”

Another woman, who is now 47, was a student of Gregory’s in 1988 and 1989. During that time, she said, he “beautifully groomed and manipulated my trust into a very inappropriate sexual relationship.”

She said she told her parents what was happening and showed them gifts Gregory had given her, including jewelry and a book of poetry in which he had placed a baby picture of himself as a bookmark with an inscription on the back.

She said the school’s vice-principal dismissed her accusations as the product of an “active imagination.”

Near tears, she told reporters that she wished that she could have protected others.

“I’m so sorry and so heartbroken.”

Both women said they spoke to other female students who had the same experiences with Gregory.

Cody Bonkowsky, another former student, said he saw what Gregory was doing to teen girls and confronted him.

“I personally witnessed Mr. Gregory on several occasions engaging in sexually based conversations with my friends, who were 12 and 13 — female student classmates,” he said.

“I actually confronted him … (he) pushed me into a wall saying, ‘They’re never going to believe you and I’m going to make sure that they don’t.’”

Lawyer Jonathan Denis, who is representing the plaintiffs, said Gregory taught at the school from 1986 to 2006.

“Mr. Gregory lost his teaching licence in 2006 but that was too late for many of the students,” he said.

“Parents and students place teachers in a position of authority and trust. Where trust is abused, school boards have a duty to protect students.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2021.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press