Page Nav


Gradient Skin



Responsive Ad

Canada's ballet world rocked by abuse scandal spanning 30 years

Canada's ballet world rocked by abuse scandal spanning 30 years The Observer Canada Canada’s ballet world r...

Canada's ballet world rocked by abuse scandal spanning 30 years

The Observer Canada Canada’s ballet world rocked by abuse scandal spanning 30 years A Royal Winnipeg Ballet teacher is accused of pressuring teenager pupils into naked photoshoots
Sarah Doucet, the lead plaintiff in the action against Winnipeg Ballet School, at her home in Toronto.
Sarah Doucet, the lead plaintiff in the action against Winnipeg Ballet School, at her home in Toronto. Photograph: Raina+Wilson

From a small dance company on the prairies of Canada it grew into one of the country’s most prestigious cultural institutions â€" gaining international prominence as the first ballet in the Commonwealth to receive the royal charter from the Queen.

Now, however, the spotlight is on the Royal Winnipeg Ballet for other reasons, after an Ontario court gave the go-ahead to a class-action lawsuit alleging that a former instructor pressurised students â€" many of them underage â€" to pose for semi-nude or nude photographs and later may have sold some of the pictures online.

The allegations are connected to the ballet’s school, which recruits and trains aspiring dancers from across Canada and around the world.

After years of whispers, former students began speaking out in 2015. Their allegations span nearly 30 years and show a pattern: accusing an instructor who doubled as the ballet’s photographer of cajoling them into taking off their clothes so that he could photograph them in various stages of undress or in sexually provocative positions. The accusations are among a series of claims that have rocked Canada’s most vaunted cultural institutions, from women who came forward with stories of CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi in 2014 to a sexual harassment complaint against the former artistic director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Charles Dutoit.

The orchestra has launched an investigation. After denying the allegations, Ghomeshi was found not guilty in 2016 of four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking, while Dutoit has denied the allegation.

Sarah Doucet was a student at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet school in the 1990s. She said she was 16 or 17 when she approached Bruce Monk to take photographs of her for her portfolio. Initially, nothing seemed amiss when the two met to take a few shots of her in the dance studio. After that, Monk suggested they move to a private office for headshots, she claimed.

He closed the office door before setting up his camera, she said. “And then he slowly, gently but very persistently, insisted I removed the straps off my shoulders,” Doucet claimed. Worried about upsetting an instructor at the highly competitive school, Doucet said she did as she was told.

Monk then took several topless photographs of her, she claimed. “I don’t remember how it ended. I’ve tried, but I don’t know how I got out of the room but it didn’t go any further,” she said. Humiliated by what had happened, she did not tell anyone at the time about her experience.

None of the allegations against Monk or the Royal Winnipeg Ballet has been proved in court. Both Monk and the ballet have filed statements of defence denying the accusations.

As other students began coming forward with similar accounts, police in Winnipeg launched an investigation in 2015. It was then that allegations also emerged that Monk â€" an accomplished photographer whose images hang on the walls of Canada’s National Gallery â€" had been selling some of the pictures online, according to the statement of claim.

The discovery added another layer to the trauma, said Doucet, now 46 and living in Toronto. The thought that pictures of her topless might be hanging on a wall somewhere in the world, she said, “is highly triggering and traumatising”.

Crown prosecutors in Manitoba ultimately decided not to lay charges against Monk, citing the slim chances of obtaining a conviction. According to court documents, the police investigation had focused on three women, including Doucet, who had all been photographed before 1993 â€" the year that Canada strengthened its ​laws on child-abuse images. The documents noted that Monk’s conduct , if proven, was “not unlawful” under the child-abuse images laws in force at the time, according to crown attorneys.

Doucet turned to the civil courts. “This was the only thing that I had left,” she said. “It was the only avenue to get them to take responsibility for what they’ve done.”

The class action, filed earlier this summer with Doucet as the lead plaintiff and on behalf of former students who claim they had their pictures taken in a private setting by Monk between 1984 and 2015, alleges that Monk breached his fiduciary duty to the students. It also argues that the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was vicariously liable for Monk’s interactions with students, said lawyer Margaret Waddell. “They were the ones that put a camera in his hands and told the students that they were to expect to be photographed by him, and created the environment, we say, where this was allowed to happen.”

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet declined to comment on the lawsuit or the allegations. Monk, who was dismissed in 2015, did not respond to a request for comment sent to his lawyer.

Among the issues the court is expected to consider, said Waddell, is whether students can meaningfully consent when being told to do something by an instructor who wields control over their career. “Imagine being, for example, a 16-year-old student and your instructor is telling you to remove your clothes so that he can photograph you,” she said. “That can be a highly traumatic experience whether or not he then uses those photographs to publish them online and sell them for his own gain.”

For Doucet, the focus is now on steeling herself for what could be a years-long court battle â€" something she never imagined when she went public with her allegation. “The past four years have been the hardest four years of my life,” she said.

Speaking out has dislodged emotions she had long buried, adding to her struggles with trusting men in positions of power. “The way that it spreads into family and friends and work life and personal life and self-esteem â€" it affects everything,” she said. “It’s time for us to stop feeling like we did something, like we were complicit in this, because we weren’t.”

Topics Source: Google News Canada | Netizen 24 Canada

Reponsive Ads