(Black Press Media files)

B.C. woman loses bid to sue for negligence in residential school sex assault

Courts find the bus driver was not negligent in getting off the bus just before the assault

A B.C. woman who was sexually assaulted on a school bus while attending a residential school has lost her request to sue the federal government for damages.

In a judgment released Friday, the B.C.’s Court of Appeal said the woman would not be awarded damages because there was no negligence on the part of the school bus driver.

The woman said the assault took place on a bus parked at the Prince Albert Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan after a hockey game. Court documents do not provide the date of the assault, but the residential school operated from 1951 to 1969.

The woman, who is not named in the records, made her claim thought the Independent Assessment Process, which was established to handle claims of serious physical, sexual or emotional abuse suffered at Indian residential schools. Claims are handled by adjudicators.

She told the court that as soon as the bus stopped on school property, the driver exited the vehicle, and immediately following that she and her female schoolmate were grabbed by the boys sitting beside them.

The woman said she was forced down to the floor and sexually assaulted. She cried out, and an older female classmate went to get the bus driver. The driver returned immediately and the assault stopped.

The woman’s claim centres on three questions: did the assault take place on school grounds? Did an adult employee of the school know, or should have reasonably known, that abuse of the sort was happening at the school? Did the adult employee fail to take “reasonable steps” to prevent the assault?

The adjudicator found the woman was sexually assaulted on school grounds and that adult employees of the residential school knew that that kind of abuse was occurring. However, “reasonable steps” did not mean the bus driver had to constantly supervise the students and that there was “a reasonable level of supervision” at the time.

She appealed the rejection of her claim, but it was upheld once by supervising judge and now by the appeals court.

In her reasons, Justice Barbara Fisher found there was no reason to disagree with the supervising judge, who had acted in “accordance with the appropriate principles” in deferring to the conclusions reached by the assessment process.

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